Dan Richardson column: CORE legislation finishes the work
If I reported that our regional community had collaborated to resolve an incredibly difficult and thorny issue at the federal level, and that we did it with bipartisan support, would you believe me? Your skepticism would be understandable, but in the case of protecting the Thompson Divide, the story is true, albeit with another chapter remaining.
Rarely does one issue unify a community like the effort to protect Thompson Divide over the last decade. Ranchers, conservationists, sportsmen, recreationists, elected officials, local business leaders and others were not only in agreement on the need to protect this land, but they worked tirelessly to make it happen — together.
My sense is that the common sentiment shared by this diverse group was that Thompson Divide, for a multitude of different reasons, was and remains simply too precious to fail. That the risk of degradation to land that feeds and nourishes us in more ways than one, when weighed against high impact activities, is just too high to accept.
That is why, a decade ago, local governments, backed by a diverse and empowered coalition, including Carbondale, Glenwood Springs, Garfield County, Pitkin County and Gunnison County, began asking our legislators in Congress “to explore legislative initiatives and other opportunities to protect these special areas from energy development in a manner that respects existing rights of leaseholders.”
Over the years, Sen. Michael Bennet answered these requests by introducing the Thompson Divide Withdrawal and Protection Act, first in 2013 and again in 2017. Divisions in Congress kept those bills from passing. Meanwhile, local residents continued to work together, offering to buy back leases in the Divide and working to expose errors that BLM had made when the agency originally sold oil and gas leases in the Thompson Divide.
In 2015, the U.S. Forest Service also answered our calls and closed most of the Divide to future leasing — but only for a couple of decades. Then, in 2016, after acknowledging the errors in the original sale of the leases, the Bureau of Land Management cancelled 25 improperly issued leases there.
Through so many years and so many different battles, permanent protection of the Thompson Divide has been the ultimate goal. Recently, along with U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse, Sen. Bennet once again answered our requests with legislation that would permanently protect the Divide from new leasing.
This legislation, which has been introduced in both houses of Congress, is called the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy (CORE) Act, and it may be the best chance we have yet had to protect the Divide from future leasing — permanently.
Some are content with the current 20-year fix, but I would argue that it unfairly misleads an industry that could otherwise be investing elsewhere or in different technologies. I believe what is embedded in this advocacy message is a commitment to leave the natural resources in the ground for future generations, until at the very least they can be extracted without disturbing the land above. Without permanent protection of the land, we are destined to bequeath to those generations depleted resources, antiquated energy infrastructure and only a degraded environment to show for it.
The CORE Act would protect the Divide from industrialization and it would do it in a way that protects the few valid existing rights that remain in the area. This is a well-conceived response to our consistent requests over the years. The bill is the culmination of years of work by a diverse and broad coalition of citizens and local elected officials. It has my support and it deserves yours as well.
If you agree, please make you voice be heard.
Dan Richardson is mayor of Carbondale who has been involved in the Thompson Divide issue for several years.