Gardner open to dialogue on Thompson Divide |

Gardner open to dialogue on Thompson Divide

Alyson Baltzer
John Stroud / Post Independent |

U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner says he looks forward to sitting down with the Thompson Divide Coalition, local officials and fellow members of Congress “as soon as we can” to continue the dialogue on solutions to further protect the Thompson Divide area from natural gas drilling.

Concerns about the continued existence of leases in the region that are being reviewed by the Bureau of Land Management and other energy-related issues were among the topics that came up during Gardner’s visit with Garfield County commissioners and local constituents Friday in Glenwood Springs.

Questions and comments also touched on immigration reform, health insurance rates under Obamacare, how to pay for Colorado’s and the nation’s infrastructure needs, and options for providing more access to higher education.

Gardner, the newly elected Republican freshman senator from Colorado, has not committed to supporting a new version of Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet’s Thompson Divide protection bill that’s expected to be introduced this session.

But Gardner indicated he is willing to talk about the issue with those involved in seeking more permanent protections within the largely undisturbed swath of public lands south of Glenwood Springs.

“I do look forward to working with you [county commissioners] and others in this room on that issue,” Gardner said, adding the conversation also needs to involve 3rd District Congressman Scott Tipton.

Glenwood Springs City Councilman Mike Gamba questioned Gardner about the challenges of funding local transportation projects that are not part of the state or federal highway system, but that are impacted by traffic on Interstate 70 and state Highway 82.

“We do need to find reliable sources that we know are going to be there for infrastructure needs, especially in a growing state like Colorado,” Gardner said.

One funding source could come from another bill being supported by Sen. Bennet that attempts to return some of the taxes being paid to foreign countries by U.S. companies doing business overseas.

It’s one way “to create an infrastructure here at home,” Gardner said.

Following the meeting, Gardner said some of his colleagues have talked about revisiting the federal gasoline tax now that prices at the pump have dropped dramatically in recent months.

An increase in the gas tax is often mentioned as one way to pay to rebuild the nation’s crumbling highway infrastructure. But it’s not something Gardner is likely to support when other “common sense tax reform” options exist that don’t increase taxes.

He said it doesn’t make sense to increase taxes on something that “could eventually go away” with advances in alternative-fuel vehicles and “relying on a diminishing source,” Gardner said.

On the topic of immigration reform, Gardner said the Senate is not likely to have enough votes to support a House measure passed earlier this week that would roll back President Barack Obama’s executive orders to clear the path for naturalization for many undocumented immigrants.

“Instead of saying no to this and no to that, we do have to come up with some solutions on immigration,” Gardner said of congressional Republicans. “We do need immigration reform.”

Gardner also said he looks forward to hearing more during Obama’s State of the Union address next week about the president’s proposal to provide two years of community college education for free to those students who want it.

“I don’t know the full details of that, and how much it would cost, but I do want to listen,” he said. “There are things we need to do to open some options.”

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