GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado " Rep. Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison, said she plans to use her new leadership role in the state House to "keep Western Slope issues on the radar screen" during next year's legislative session.
In an interview with the Glenwood Springs Post Independent last week, Curry outlined some of the goals and priorities for when legislators return to Denver on Jan. 7. Many of her priorities center around oil and gas development in the state.
Earlier this month, House Speaker-elect Rep. Terrance Carroll, D-Denver, named Curry as speaker protem, who will be part of the Democrats' leadership in the legislative body. She will retain her position as chair of the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee " where oil and gas bills in the House originate.
Curry said a large issue that will need to be addressed next year is how the state assists communities impacted by oil and gas development. She said counties like Garfield, Delta, Gunnison and Mesa counties are not getting adequate funds from the state to address their impacts.
"We have not adequately addressed their needs," she said. "They are going to have a presence up at the Capitol this year in my view."
While the state legislature has made improvements to how severance taxes are distributed to local communities, their need for additional funding continues to grow, Curry said.
"We need to continue to fight for more of the money that is flowing into the state returning to the energy impacted areas," she said.
Garfield County Commissioner John Martin, who recently won re-election to a fourth-term as a county commissioner, said he spoke with Curry more than a week ago and that they touched on directing increased severance taxes back to impacted counties.
"We need to make it a priority," he said. "If we put politics aside, we can sure work together and get things accomplished."
Martin said with her leadership and by working with other legislators, like state Sens. Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, and Al White, R-Hayden, "hopefully with the coordination, we can get things accomplished," Martin said.
But he added that Curry is going to have to make some tough decisions with her leadership role.
"She is going to get attacked from both sides, especially from special interests," he said. "She is looking to see where her foundation is, where her true strength is, and she has put that feeler out there, and I think she can count on Garfield County to help her out."
One issue that is expected to dominate the conversation during the early days of the next legislative session will be the rules the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission may adopt in early December, Curry said.
She also expects that there is a possibility of revisiting the state's severance tax system in the wake of Colorado voters handing Amendment 58 a decisive defeat at the polls. Newly elected State Senator Al White has indicated he might want to push for severance tax reform in this legislative session, she said.
Curry said with her leadership role in the House and her position as chair of the Agriculture committee would give her a central role in any severance tax discussions.
"Hopefully, I can do some good work for our region," she said.
Other oil and gas topics that might be addressed next legislative session may be issues surrounding royalty owner concerns and produced water from coal bed methane wells, Curry said. The concern over produced water is how it might be impacting adjacent landowner water rights in Huerfano County, she said.
"That is an awful lot of oil and gas stuff for one session, so I would be looking for everyone to come together on which issues we are going to focus on and how we are going to make sure everyone's voice is heard," Curry said.
Besides oil and gas issues, Curry would like to see what help she can be in helping to direct money toward healthy forest management, especially in combating the bark beetle problem that has devastated Colorado trees.
"There is always the perennial water discussions," she said. "I don't see anything really major in terms of a specific bill that would get everyone fired up over here. But it is an ongoing need and discussion because they don't have enough water to meet their needs on the Front Range. We need to be a constructive partner in helping meet their needs without having to tap our resources."
One key role Curry believed she could play in this year's legislative session is working with the energy industry about possible oil and gas legislation. Industry trade groups have had a relatively frosty relationship with Gov. Bill Ritter this year, especially over the proposed oil and gas rules and Amendment 58.
"My sense is that the industry is pretty pro-active and knows that some of these things need to be addressed and that they would want to be at the table because they are affected directly," Curry said. "I will be working closely with our leadership team and the governor's office to zero in on which topics we want to work on this year."
Curry said she was going to miss Rep. Bernie Buescher, D-Grand Junction " who many pegged to be the next House Speaker but who lost to Republican Laura Bradford on Nov. 4 " but added that she is looking to develop a working relationship with the new representative.
"Our issues are really more regional and specific and they cross party lines," Curry said.