Residents grill Allard on health care, water, gas drilling |

Residents grill Allard on health care, water, gas drilling

A lively group turned out to question U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., at his town meeting in Rifle Monday.

About 25 people turned out to hear the legislator’s views on a variety of issues, from health care to oil and gas drilling to water rights.

Allard is running for re-election this year against Democrat Tom Strickland.

Questions about health care revolved around physicians dropping some insurance plans and companies dropping retirees’ health coverage.

Allard said his answer to health insurance problems is to carry a high deductible and have catastrophic health coverage in case of an emergency.

“I think the best way to go is for individual medical accounts,” he said.

Allard said he’d like to offer tax credits as an incentive for more people to cover a good part of health care on their own. No specific bill is proposed to provide for tax credits for such accounts, but Allard said it’s something he’d like to see in the future.

In response to a retired woman who wanted to know how she could keep her health coverage, Allard asked her if she were over 65.

This drew a big laugh from a man sitting next to the woman, and the comment, “You just got elected.”

Parachute resident Peggy Rawlins, who is a member of the Western Colorado Congress and Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, appealed to Allard to include in a national energy plan protection for surface owners’ rights against impacts from oil and gas drillers.

A bill proposing an energy plan will be introduced next week, Allard said.

“Surface owners in the western part of the state get little protection against surface damage if they don’t own the mineral rights,” Rawlins said.

Allard said that’s an issue that should be handled by individual states. In Colorado, the oil and gas commission handles such drilling issues.

But Rawlins pointed out only two of the people on the present commission are not in the oil and gas business. As a result, she said, the commissioners are less inclined to be sympathetic to surface owners.

“It’s a classic conflict between two property rights,” said Allard. “It’s a delicate balance. I will give it fair consideration.”

Glenwood Springs environmental activist Steve Smith also urged Allard to strengthen environmental protections for drilling on public lands.

“While we do want a steady energy industry … we don’t want provisions” that would damage public lands, Smith said.

Allard also fielded a question about federally reserved water rights in a recently proposed farm bill called the Reid Amendment, proposed by Sen. Harry Reid, R-Nev. Under the bill, landowners could be required to give up their water rights to the federal government when they sign up for the Conservation Reserve Program. The program pays ranchers and farmers not to use certain lands that could provide wildlife habitat or should in some way be conserved.

Allard said he is opposed to the bill.

“It would undermine state water law,” he said.

He also said he is working to get the federal water right language out of the bill.

Assistant Ranger Gary Osier of the White River National Forest in Rifle told Allard the Forest Service is unhappy with a recently issued environmental assessment of a uranium mill tailings cleanup site west of Rifle.

The EA presented DOE’s plan for cleaning up groundwater contaminated with toxic chemicals.

The Department of Energy, which owns the site, has “a laissez-faire attitude to management of the water. Their only feasible (cleanup method) was to wait 100 years and see what (the water) looks like then,” he said.

He said he was concerned that the DOE did not consider other, albeit more expensive, cleanup methods.

Douglas Denio, also a member of the Grand River Citizens Alliance, asked Allard his position on the Yucca Mountain, Nev., nuclear waste storage facility, which is up for approval soon.

Denio said he doesn’t want to see the radioactive waste carried through the mountains.

Allard said he supports the Yucca Mountain proposal.

He also assured Denio that the waste will continue to be transported through the flatter lands of New Mexico and Wyoming.

The trucks that transport the material “are like fortifications. … Terrorists aren’t going to get close to them,” he said.

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