Guest Opinion: Tipton should be ashamed of ignoring constituents
Important milestones were recently reached in the long history of wrangling over the Thompson Divide. As part of the process to implement a Draft Environmental Impact Statement, the Bureau of Land Management asked for public comment. More than 55,000 comments were submitted. Three public meetings were held in Carbondale, Glenwood Springs, and De Beque, at which more than 350 citizens showed up. Everybody on record at the meetings spoke in favor of canceling illegal natural gas leases.
Readers familiar with these processes know that 55,000 comments is a lot. And a cross-section of the community at a public meeting, all saying the same thing? That’s unheard of. That is especially true in rural Colorado, in an area spanning 100 miles over treacherous roads, and in the midst of a cold and snowy winter storm. It couldn’t be clearer: there is no silent majority, there is no silent minority, there is only a unanimous voice crying out to cancel the illegal leases and protect the Thompson Divide.
Unfortunately, Congressman Scott Tipton is not on board with what his constituents are saying. Mr. Tipton, whose district includes the areas leased, published a guest opinion in area newspapers. He decried what he views as “yet another in a long line of abuses of private property rights by the federal government.” He characterized the federal government as a “highway robber.”
Why is the BLM acting so monstrously? According to Tipton, it has succumbed to political pressure from the “environmental extremists.” All 55,000 of them, I suppose, including longtime ranchers, combat veterans, small business owners, sportsmen, local elected officials and the rest of us who form the backbone of these communities.
In a slew of statements made on the record, Tipton paints a fundamentally incorrect portrait of what’s going on in western Colorado. He uses the same hyperbolic rhetoric that came from the armed Bundy posse about “private property” rights being violated by an aggressive federal government. Tipton will push this fiction if it wins him votes and gives him a punch line when backing a policy that benefits his most lucrative campaign donor and primary leaseholder in the Divide, SG Interests (which donated $16,000 to his campaign committee in 2014, a fraction of the $112,000 collectively donated to him by the oil and gas industry).
Tipton ought to be ashamed for spinning this fabric of deception. First, it is good public policy that an agency tasked with managing public assets can correct mistakes it made in the past. The American public shouldn’t be forced to accept leases on public lands that fail to protect important resources on lands that they own.
Second, the BLM has in fact exhibited the utmost commitment to caution throughout this process. The public comment period was a chance for anyone and everyone to express their views, yet overwhelmingly the comments favored cancellation.
I wish to burst this misinformation bubble about the supposed attack on private property rights, because it is so misleading. A 10-year lease issued on public land for the purpose of public benefit, and for the commercial gain of the lessee, is not the same thing as a private home or private land, or whatever Scott Tipton is hinting at. A federal oil and gas lease affords a leaseholder a limited set of rights — chief among them is the ability to apply for permission to drill for oil and gas. The U.S. Supreme Court has made it clear that the BLM has the authority to cancel leases that were issued in violation of the law. Surely, Tipton knows this.
Evaluating how to deal with an illegally issued oil and gas lease through a very public process is not the same thing as King George’s soldiers kicking in the door. This isn’t about property rights. It’s about going through the proper process to ensure that drilling wells on our public lands follows the law, is the right thing for us and is done responsibly.
Finally, Tipton’s notion that these leases were “bought and paid for” is laughable. They were handed over in some cases for $2 an acre — sold, in many cases, at competitive lease sales without any competing bids. This was a cheap grab for the energy companies. Now they feel they are entitled to something for nothing, and then some.
In fact, the Thompson Divide Coalition has offered on more than one occasion to pay far more than what leaseholders paid, just to walk away. It seems the energy companies would rather donate to politicians like Tipton who are limber enough to ignore the wishes of their own constituents and instead manufacture emotionally charged fables to ensure a good return on the investment for their out-of-state donors.
Allyn Harvey is a Carbondale town trustee, Wilderness Workshop board member and Roaring Fork Valley native.
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