U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton says he remains hesitant about supporting legislation being put forward by Colorado’s Senate delegation that aims to protect federal lands in the Thompson Divide area from natural gas development.
“The main problem I have is that once you pass a bill it becomes precedent,” Tipton said during a Wednesday visit to Glenwood Springs of his reservations about U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet’s proposed Thompson Divide Withdrawal and Protection Act.
Bennet’s bill, which has earned the support of his fellow Democratic Colorado senator Mark Udall, would withdraw any unleased lands within the 221,500-acre Thompson Divide region southwest of Glenwood Springs from future leasing.
It would also provide for the sale, donation or voluntary expiration of existing, undeveloped leases held by energy companies in the area. It’s a long-term strategy that the Carbondale-based Thompson Divide Coalition maintains will require federal legislation to accomplish.
Tipton, R-Cortez, said he believes those private negotiations can and should continue, but don’t necessarily require legislation to be successful.
“We need to be able to protect private property rights, and an [oil and gas] lease is a private property right,” Tipton said during a meeting with local business owners as part of his National Small Business Week swing through northwest Colorado.
“The best thing that can happen is to keep the conversation going between the coalition and the lease holders to reach a market-based solution,” he said. “We [Congress] ought not to get in the way, and I think we need to be very cautious with that.”
But Zane Kessler, executive director for the coalition, said legislation is needed to help achieve such a solution.
“The inseparability of legislation and a market-based solution is clear,” Kessler said. “These are federal lands that support local economies, and federal support is critical to achieving a local solution.”
The coalition’s approach does respect private property rights, he said.
“Our communities have been working for three years to achieve a solution that makes leaseholders whole on their investments and protects the area from future leasing,” Kessler said. “If there are other ways to achieve a permanent solution that industry can support, we’re all ears.”
In February, the chairs of three county commissions whose jurisdictional boundaries include the Thompson Divide region — Garfield, Pitkin and Gunnison — called on Tipton to support some type of legislation that could lead to a market-based solution to acquiring the leases.
That letter did not refer to the Bennet bill specifically, but a follow-up news release from the Thompson Divide Coalition calling attention to the commissioners’ joint statement did mention the proposed legislation.
Tipton has not responded directly to that appeal, which was issued in response to statements he made in Pitkin County that he believed the bill might derail the lease negotiations.
“Far from undermining current negotiations, we believe that federal legislation may be critical to current, ongoing negotiations,” the letter signed by commissioners John Martin from Garfield County, Rob Ittner from Pitkin County and Paula Swenson from Gunnison County stated.
“Our communities need assurances from the federal government that their work to develop a local solution can actually lead to long-term conservation of the Thompson Divide area … and we believe federal legislation is critical to achieving that goal,” the letter concluded.
“We need to be able to protect private property rights, and an [oil and gas] lease is a private property right.”
U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton