Column: Tipton follows money away from Divide protection
Despite our dramatic vistas and massive peaks, Rep. Scott Tipton doesn’t see past his donor list when deciding how to best represent the people living in Garfield, Delta, Gunnison and Pitkin counties.
The congressman for western Colorado last month made his position on Thompson Divide official: He is against permanent protection.
Tipton supports an industry-hatched deal that offers only temporary protection for Thompson Divide, the 220,000-acre expanse of BLM and Forest Service land that contains some of the healthiest wildlife habitat in Colorado and plays a vital role in our agricultural and recreation-based economies. This is bad news for our economy and the environment.
Tipton’s decision to side with industry is reminiscent of that time in the Bush administration, when energy executives sat in a room with the vice president and rewrote national environmental and energy regulations to their liking. In Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District, Rep. Tipton allows energy executives and their lawyers to write up a deal that suits their fancy.
Tipton announced his pro-industry stance in a column published last month in the Post Independent and elsewhere. He made it clear that he isn’t willing to even consider permanent protection for our cherished landscapes. Tipton has never shown a willingness to discuss Thompson Divide with local communities.
It’s clear, however, that he talked about Thompson Divide with his benefactors in Houston. The industry plan that Tipton supports would exchange contested and expired leases in the Thompson Divide that are currently held by SG Interests and other energy companies for new leases to develop natural gas in Delta and Rio Blanco counties. The companies would likely have another 10 years to drill.
SG Interests is hungry for this deal because it will gain access to energy-rich areas that have a much higher likelihood of being profitable than its holdings in Thompson Divide, which have long been considered as low priority for development.
This is such a good deal for industry — and such a hollow deal for the rest of us — that SG Industries, Ursa Resources and other energy companies can circle back around and drill the Thompson Divide at a future date that can be set at any time by the Bureau of Land Management.
SG Interests and its executives have donated more than $10,000 to Rep. Tipton’s election campaigns over the years. In 2012, the last year that Tipton faced significant opposition, the company even set up a Political Action Committee to support their man.
I can hear SG Interests executives humming the Dire Straits song “Money for Nothing.” The song is about some truck drivers observing the flush life of rock ’n’ roll stars. You might remember the refrain, which goes: “Money for nothing and their chicks for free.”
At SG Interests, the chorus probably goes something more like this: “Money for Tipton, and our gas for free.”
For the thousands of area residents — schoolchildren, parents, fishermen, farmers, hunters, ranchers, outfitters, bicycle shop owners and all other types — who are looking for real and permanent protection of the Thompson Divide, Tipton’s alignment with industry is a kick in the stomach.
On the other side of McClure Pass, on the southwest flank of Thompson Divide, our neighbors in agricultural communities like Paonia, Hotchkiss and Crawford probably feel like Tipton has kicked them hard, too. If the lease swap goes through as written, it would allow energy development that impacts the North Fork valley and other areas that supply much of central Colorado with meat, vegetables and fruit, threatening one of our most important foodsheds.
In order to show his support for essentially one out-of-state donor, Rep. Scott Tipton has:
1. Agreed to leave Thompson Divide open for future energy development.
2. Agreed to exchange hotly contested and likely expired energy leases for new leases in gas-rich lands.
3. Offered no protection for the thriving agricultural economies of Paonia, Hotchkiss and Delta.
If Tipton’s job is to represent a Houston-based company called SG Interests, he’s doing a grand job. But he has failed in representing tens of thousands of us who live, work and raise families in this part of western Colorado.
I wonder if SG has a vice president’s chair awaiting for our congressman when he retires.
Allyn Harvey is a Carbondale town trustee and PR and media consultant who writes a monthly column for the Post Independent. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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