Guest opinion: Tipton is out of sync on Thompson Divide |

Guest opinion: Tipton is out of sync on Thompson Divide

When it comes to the plan to exchange oil and gas leases in Colorado’s Thompson Divide region, nearly all the players — industry, communities, and officials — are in sharp agreement: It’s time to set some parts of the area aside to protect the outdoor economy. Everyone, that is except for Rep. Scott Tipton and his backers in the fossil energy industry, who have long expressed a desire to develop the area.

Rep. Tipton is making clear that he opposes a balanced approach to managing energy develop on public lands in the region. This should come as no surprise to anyone who news to anyone with access to campaign finance laws, which is all of us.

Back in 2012, a number of good government groups called to attention the fact that Tipton — a self-proclaimed mediator for the Thompson Divide issue, and a politician elected to represent the interests of his constituents in western Colorado — had received sizeable donations from the Houston, Texas-based SG Interests. As Public Campaign director David Donnelly said three years ago, SG’s donations to Tipton are like one of the World Series teams paying off the umpire.

On an issue where literally everyone else — leaders in the energy industry, local officials, farmers, ranchers and sportsmen in the Thompson Divide region — has come to an agreement, Tipton’s defense of bad-actor and out-of-stater SG Interests sticks out like a sore thumb.

Rep. Tipton has always been a hard-line advocate of local control, so he should be in favor of the solution that on-the-ground western Colorado citizens have devised with the lease-holders and officials in the Thompson Divide issue. Through lots of time, patience and cooperative hard work, these stakeholders have put together a plan to move forward.

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Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner and local government officials like Gunnison County Commissioner Phil Chamberland both still have time to the right thing. Recently, Mr. Chamberland declined to sign a letter from the other two Gunnison County commissioners written to Tipton, Sen. Gardner and Sen. Michael Bennet that supports the coalition approach to the lease exchange. Every other surrounding county has supported the Thompson Divide Coalition’s comprehensive exchange strategy, so Mr. Chamberland will be in good company if he decides to change his mind.

Western Colorado’s citizens have spoken, and the path forward is clear. Although Rep. Tipton is blinded by out-of-state oil money, there’s still a chance for Gunnison County’s Chamberland to do the right thing — and for Sen. Gardner to weigh in favor of his constituents. We hope they do.

Chris Saeger is director of the Western Values Project.

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