House approves CORE Act, including Thompson Divide protections; heads to Senate
Permanent protections for the Thompson Divide passed a major milestone Thursday when the U.S. House of Representatives voted to approve the CORE Act.
Local conservationists, outdoor groups, ranchers and communities have advocated for more than a decade to permanently withdraw 200,000 acres of the Thompson Divide from future oil and gas development.
“We have been working to permanently protect the Thompson Divide for over a decade, and today’s vote is a significant step toward the finish line,” said Curtis Kaufman, board president of the Thompson Divide Coalition.
The bill passed the House 227 – 182, mostly along party lines. Only five Republicans voted for the CORE Act, none of them representing Colorado.
Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colorado, whose district includes the Thompson Divide and much of the areas affected by the CORE Act, voted against the CORE Act despite successfully amending the bill leading up to the final vote.
The final version of the House bill included two late amendments Wednesday from Rep. Scott Tipton, one of them to “ensure grazing permitted at the time of enactment may continue in Thompson Divide.”
Another Tipton amendment adopted Wednesday stated that nothing in the act would imply federal water rights in the Curecanti National Recreation Area.
A third Tipton amendment was not accepted. Tipton spent the final moments of the debate Thursday expressing concerns about the High-Altitude Army National Guard Aviation Training Site (HAATS) located in Gypsum.
In a statement, Tipton said the CORE Act still lacks local support and input from Western Slope communities.
Tipton acknowledged the years of work that went into crafting the bill, but said “in its current form the bill has not adequately incorporated the necessary feedback from the Western Slope communities which the bill predominately impacts,” Tipton said.
Bill sponsor Rep. Joe Neguse, a Democrat from Boulder, and Sen. Michael Bennet, sponsor of the Senate version, vehemently disagreed with that characterization.
“It’s important to clarify the facts, which is that ultimately, this bill does in fact have the support of every single local jurisdiction that is impacted directly by the bill,” Neguse said.
On the Thompson Divide issue, Garfield County commissioners wavered in their support, but eventually stated in a letter that they have no issue with the Thompson Divide language. They would not, however, endorse the CORE Act as a whole.
Tipton presented a letter from Montrose County commissioners who said they had not been approached to support the bill as a whole, and did not formally support the entire CORE Act. But they also wrote that they had no issue with the Curecanti portion of the bill.
Elected officials from San Miguel, San Juan, Ouray, Gunnison and Pitkin counties have publicly announced support for the CORE Act.
The CORE Act faces an uncertain path forward through the Senate and the president’s desk.
The bill would need Republican support to pass the Senate, and Sen. Cory Gardner has not endorsed it.
The White House has already stated that if the CORE Act were presented to President Donald Trump in its current form, he would likely veto it, the Colorado Sun reports.
Bennet said he has approached the leaders of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and asked for a hearing.
“I think there’s no reason why this shouldn’t have a hearing in the Senate committee. We’ll take it one step at a time,” Bennet said.
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