GLENWOOD SPRINGS — A negotiated solution between lease holders and those concerned about gas drilling in the Thompson Divide area should not wait for passage of federal legislation, Congressman Scott Tipton said during a town hall meeting here Thursday.
“That thinking needs to be reversed,” Tipton, R-Cortez, said in response to questions about he might work to support efforts to take the Thompson Divide region south of Glenwood Springs out of consideration for future leasing, and provide a way for current leaseholders to sell or voluntarily retire their leases.
Instead, Tipton said he would be open to helping facilitate the stalled talks between the Thompson Divide Coalition (TDC) and energy companies to reach a negotiated settlement that could be considered a “win-win.”
“My suggestion would be, don’t hold it contingent on passage of legislation,” he said in reference to a bill proposed by Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado, and noting it’s taken him multiple years to pass even “common sense” bills that have bi-partisan support.
Especially when private property rights, in the form of active federal leases, are involved, honest negotiations are the best approach to make sure those rights are dealt with fairly, he said.
“If you get sensible people sitting down in a room, I think you probably will have a good, win-win solution,” Tipton said. “If at all possible, I will be there.”
But Zane Kessler, executive director for the TDC, said he believes the bill put forward by Bennet is necessary to provide a “path forward” to reach a settlement.
“A market-based solution will not work without this federal legislation,” he said, urging Tipton to get behind the Bennet proposal and pointing to a broad local consensus around the issue.
“Very few public lands issues have that kind of consensus,” Kessler said of the coalition’s support from ranching, recreation and conservation interests.
Tipton, who faces voters in this fall’s election against Democratic challenger and former state Sen. Abel Tapia of Pueblo, also addressed immigration reform during what he said was his “sixth or seventh” town hall meeting in Glenwood Springs since taking office in 2011.
Tipton said he agreed with local immigration attorney Erin Richards that the current immigration system is broken. But the solution is a “step-by-step” process that begins with securing the nation’s borders, he said.
“We know we have people who are coming in who want to do the country harm,” Tipton said. “We have got to be able to secure the borders first.”
The flood of immigrants crossing the border illegally also makes it hard to process those who are waiting in line for worker visas, legal citizenship and other forms of immigration status, Tipton also said.
“We need to take a step-by-step approach, and take the time to make sure we’re doing it right the first time,” he said. “It still begins with border security.”
Richards, who works with the Glenwood Springs office of Jennifer Smith, said the border problems are perpetuated by the long wait to apply for and receive immigration status. It’s a problem that “tears apart” families and frustrates employers who “feel trapped” because they can’t hire willing workers, she told the Congressman.
Tipton also touched on legislation he sponsored related to development of both renewable and traditional fossil energy resources, water rights protection, forest management and wildfire mitigation for which he was able to assemble bi-partisan support in the House, but which are still awaiting Senate action.
“These are good common sense pieces of legislation that ought to get support,” Tipton said, speaking to the frustration he said he shares with constituents about Washington gridlock. “We aren’t even allowed a hearing.”