Salazars shift focus on Roan Plateau to environmental protection |

Salazars shift focus on Roan Plateau to environmental protection

Phillip Yates
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., and Rep. John Salazar, D-Manassa, are backing away from attempts to prevent gas leasing on the top of the Roan Plateau, and instead plan to introduce legislation partly based on recommendations by Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter.

The Salazars’ proposed legislation, which was crafted with the help of U.S. Rep. Mark Udall, D-Eldorado Springs, would direct the federal government to implement two of Ritter’s proposals for boosting environmental protections during energy development on the Roan. Ritter announced the proposals in late December.

“The Roan Plateau is a very special place for us here in Colorado. It is one of the most diverse wildlife habitats we have in our state. It is one of those places we absolutely have to protect,” Ken Salazar said Tuesday during a conference call with reporters. “I will not allow the Western Slope or any part of our state to become the sacrificial zone for oil and gas development.”

The Salazars, who are brothers, plan to submit their legislation in both the House of Representatives and the Senate when they return to Washington on Jan. 15.

The proposed legislation also would transfer an estimated $80 million in the Anvil Points oil shale trust fund back to Colorado and the Western Slope. About $20 million is needed to clean up the Anvil Points Superfund site north of Rulison. The proposed legislation would direct $40 million in “spillover funds” to water and land conservation efforts and roads impacted by oil and gas development in Garfield and Rio Blanco counties, according to the Salazars.

The Anvil Points issue was a point of contention between Ken Salazar and Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., in late December, as Congress was rushing to approve several bills. Allard accused Salazar of refusing to co-sponsor his Anvil Points provision to return revenues to Colorado unless Allard supported moratoriums on gas leasing on the Roan Plateau and on the process leading to commercial oil shale leasing in the region. The moratorium effort regarding gas leasing on the Roan Plateau failed.

Attempts to contact Sen. Wayne Allard’s office were not successful late Tuesday.

Included in the Salazars’ proposed legislation is a requirement to increase the designated areas of critical environmental concern in the current Bureau of Land Management plan for drilling on the Roan from its current 21,034 acres to about 36,000 acres. Ritter had requested the increase in December.

Ritter also called for phased leasing rather than leasing all the federal lands at once. The Salazars’ legislation would require phased leasing.

Jon Bargas, manager of communications for the Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States, said he applauded the Salazars’ goal of striking a balance between energy development and preserving public lands in the Roan.

“At a time when the country is suffering from rising energy costs, unemployment, and fears of a recession, we are glad to see the Salazar brothers and Rep. Udall are beginning to recognize the importance of this important domestic energy resource,” Bargas said.

Ken Neubecker, vice president of Colorado Trout Unlimited, said any legislation to increase the size of the ACECs is a positive step.

But he added, “It is still not as good, in my mind, as not allowing drilling at all (on top of the plateau). That is the only way to guarantee protection of the wildlife and aquatic resources.”

The Salazars’ legislation would also target language slipped into a $555 billion spending bill that would reduce the states’ 50 percent share from federal mineral leasing ” derived from energy and mineral extraction on federal lands ” by 2 percent. The reduction means states would get 48 percent of the proceeds, and the federal government 52 percent.

“The legislation would repeal the provisions and restore Colorado’s federal mineral leasing share to 50 percent,” said Salazar, adding that the legislation would apply only to Colorado.

Allard staff members have indicated the 52-48 split would apply only to the 2008 fiscal year. Allard also opposes changing the 50-50 split, even for a year.

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