Newman: BLM must protect Thompson, act in public’s best interest

George Newman
Guest Commentary

I want to thank the Bureau of Land Management for proceeding with the environmental impact statement and the public forum it have convened throughout the Roaring Fork Valley.

As an elected official, I have the unique position to speak on behalf of our residents on issues impacting their health, safety and welfare. In the case of illegal leases let, expiration of those leases suspended, and the consequences of future leases in Thompson Divide, I join with the residents who have spoken loud and clear, again and again and again, to the U.S. Forest Service in comments to their draft environmental impact statement regarding land management in Thompson Divide, and to the BLM, in regards to these leases and now its environmental impact statement scoping.

I broach my comments/questions to the BLM around the three E’s: energy, economy and the environment.

Regarding energy development, I ask the BLM to read and take into account the two separate geological and economic assessments done regarding the cost/benefit analysis of drilling in this area. I would ask it to use its best “guesstimate:” Notwithstanding the cost to put into place the infrastructure to drill, how much energy will really be gained for the country? One day’s worth? One week’s worth? As these reports will show, surely not enough to get to my second point on a sustainable economy. I ask that the BLM read and take into account the economic report done showing that Thompson Divide currently supports 300 jobs that account for $30 million on an ongoing and annual basis. This is my notion of a sustainable economy.

Here in the Roaring Fork Valley, we know the history of mineral and fossil-fuel extraction. It has gone relatively quickly from boom to bust. You can look at the silver boom here in Aspen, the coal boom in Redstone and the last gas boom in Garfield County. Even during the boom times, the social impacts were never really monetized in regards to the needs of increased public safety, increased social services and increased pressure on local schools. And we know that in the long run, development never truly pays its way. Then, of course, comes the eventuality of the bust years. Where jobs and life styles have been lost, people have been forced to move away, leaving behind a fallen infrastructure.

And, last but not least, what I ask the BLM to look at are the consequences to our environment: an environment that drives our tourist economy, one not measured in millions of dollars but billions of dollars from visitors to land values. Our resorts are known internationally, and the White River National Forest leads the nation in visitors among all other national forests. We know the consequences of those earlier miners. One-hundred years later we are still dealing with what was left behind for future generations to deal with in real dollars: from a Superfund site in Aspen to an attempt to restore the Crystal River to an acceptable level of sediment given the impact Coal Basin has had on it. I would ask that the BLM read and utilize the air-quality study we did as well. I ask the BLM, what price does it put on our air quality, our watershed, the health of our forests, our wildlife habitat?

Here in the Roaring Fork Valley, it is our environment that drives our economy, not the other way around. We have an idea of what that price is to our residents and the taxpayers of Colorado as we have spent over $30 million to purchase and protect open space and ranch lands in the Crystal River Valley, including thousands of acres in Jerome Park adjacent to Thompson Divide: to protect our air quality, our water quality, our wildlife habitat, our historic ag lands, our recreation opportunities.

From Gov. John Hickenlooper, who described Thompson Divide area as Colorado’s “crown jewel,” to Sens Michael Bennet and Mark Udall, who have co-sponsored the Thompson Divide Withdrawal and Protection Act (we heard directly from Udall the other night), to former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and, last but certainly not least, President Obama in his State of the Union address who said, “I will use my authority to protect more pristine lands for future generations,” all have acknowledged, as do all of us, that there are some places so unique and special, pristine in nature, that they should be set aside from oil and gas exploration. Thompson Divide is one of these places.

As a public organization within the BLM charter, it has the responsibility to use its discretion to act on behalf of the public’s best interest. I believe, in the BLM’s due diligence through the environmental impact study, taking into account all the facts provided, supported by all the studies commissioned, with the support of every town council and board of county commissioners throughout the Roaring Fork Valley, along with the hundreds of resident comments, the only possible conclusion is to cancel the existing leases in the Pitkin County portions of Thompson Divide.

I encourage everyone to send in your comments/scoping questions on this critical issue to the BLM. Email address: The deadline is May 16. You also can sign on to Thompson Divide comment letter by going to

George Newman is a Pitkin County commissioner.