Hickenlooper stumps for Thompson Divide protection while on Carbondale stop | PostIndependent.com
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Hickenlooper stumps for Thompson Divide protection while on Carbondale stop

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times

Former Colorado governor and current U.S. senate candidate John Hickenlooper claimed Wednesday during a campaign stop in Carbondale that his opponent, Republican incumbent Cory Gardner, is a phony environmentalist.

Hickenlooper and U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, both Democrats, visited the ranch of Bill and Marje Fales four miles south of Carbondale to stump for passage of the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act. The legislation, which has been passed in the U.S. House but stalled in the Senate, would protect 400,000 acres of public land in Colorado. As part of those protections, it would permanently remove oil and gas leasing on about 200,000 acres in the Thompson Divide area between Carbondale and Paonia.

Hickenlooper said “the coolest thing of all” about the legislation is it was “homegrown” rather than written in Washington, D.C.

“There are nine counties that have land in the CORE Act that is to be protected and the county commissioners, for the lands in their county, every one of them supported the CORE Act,” Hickenlooper said. “So how the hell can Cory Gardner be against it? Well, we know, it’s because (Senate majority leader) Mitch McConnell doesn’t think we need more public lands, because Donald Trump doesn’t think we need more public lands, because the oil and gas industry doesn’t think we need more public lands. That’s the food chain, that’s the pecking order for that.”

Gardner has portrayed himself as a champion of the environment in recent TV advertisements by noting he helped push this summer for passage of legislation that provides permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Environmentalists universally hailed passage of the funding in August as an important victory.

Hickenlooper claimed Gardner supported the funding for political gain.

“I know you’ve all seen Cory’s ads, but we call it the Once and Only Environmental Act of Cory Gardner,” Hickenlooper said. He claimed Gardner “didn’t do all that much” to get the legislation approved and that he has done nothing to protect “transitional lands” such as Thompson Divide.

“We have to make sure he doesn’t use that miracle of communication technology, the TV ad, he isn’t able to use that as a shortcut back into the Senate,” Hickenlooper said.

Gardner’s staff in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday referred questions about the senator’s position on the CORE Act to his campaign staff. A campaign spokesman couldn’t be reached for comment.

Gardner outlined his problems with CORE Act and potential revisions for The Colorado Sun last year. Part of his concern was that U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton didn’t support it.

Tipton lost the Congressional District 3 Republican primary in June to Lauren Boebert and will be out of office next year. Boebert issued a statement after the House vote and said it was a “land grab” by liberals.

The audience Wednesday of about 30 at the Fales’ ranch included numerous representatives of the Thompson Divide Coalition, which has been fighting for protection of the lands since the early 2000s, and local elected officials.

In an interview prior to the campaign event, Wilderness Workshop executive director Will Roush said portions of Thompson Divide area currently have administrative protections from new oil and gas leasing, but those could be changed through standard updates or changes in policy. The CORE Act would give permanent protection in the form of a federal mineral withdrawal.

“Permanent congressional protection is the gold standard for land protection that such a special place like the Thompson Divide deserves and gives local communities, ranchers and businesses the protection and certainty they have been requesting for over a decade,” Roush said in an email.

Bennet said there remains a chance the CORE Act will be passed this legislative session. The House attached it as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, which was passed July 21. The NDAA is considered vital legislation, but it is unknown if the Senate will pass a version that includes the amendment with the CORE Act.

If the CORE Act doesn’t pass this year, Bennet hopes to see it approved in a Democrat-controlled Senate next year. Hickenlooper’s defeat of Gardner would be a key to getting that approved, he said.

“This bill has enormous support here,” Bennet told the Carbondale crowd. “And it is enormously frustrating to me that we have not been able to get it over the finish line. I think the Thompson Divide Coalition deserves to have a senator who realizes how important the Thompson Divide is to Colorado.”

He called the CORE Act the “most important environmental legislation” considered in Colorado in the past 25 years. Thompson Divide is vital for grazing land for local ranchers, wildlife habitat and for outdoor recreation values.

“I think you helped me explain to the country why there are plenty of other places where you can drill for oil and gas,” he told the audience. “This is probably the last one you should be doing.”

Some environmentalists criticized Hickenlooper while he was governor for being too cozy with the oil and gas industry. He agreed with Bennet that Thompson Divide is an area that should be protected rather than tapped. He labeled the CORE Act “as close to perfect as you’re going to get. … I can’t wait to vote for it.”

He said a small number of oil and gas companies were interested in Thompson Divide lands primarily as “speculation.”

“I don’t think anybody has convinced me that there is huge amounts of hydrocarbons there or they can be economically recovered,” Hickenlooper said. “They were gambling that people would rise up and try to protect the land and they would actually multiply their investment, which to a certain extent they did.”

That’s why it is important that future oil and gas leases are ruled out in Thompson Divide, he said.

scondon@aspentimes.com


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