Western guvs wade into flap over grouse
Gov. John Hickenlooper told northwestern Colorado residents Monday that he hopes he can work as chairman of the Western Governors’ Association to help find regional common ground on greater sage-grouse management and other oil and gas issues.
His comments came during visits to Craig and Rifle, where he heard local politicians and others reiterate concerns about potential impacts from sage-grouse management and other regulatory proposals pertaining to the energy industry.
Hickenlooper said Western governors want to take a science-based approach to management of the greater sage-grouse.
“We think we will have real impact, having Republicans and Democrats addressing this at the same time,” he told an audience in Craig.
The Bureau of Land Management is considering how to manage lands to protect the greater sage-grouse to try to keep it from being listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for Endangered Species Act protection.
But there’s concern in places such as northwest Colorado that its actions could create undue effects on oil and gas development, ranching, recreation and other activities.
“It’s hard to say that those activities are the cause of diminishing numbers of sage-grouse,” Hickenlooper said.
He said in Rifle that he’s spoken with Dan Ashe, director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, on the sage-grouse issue.
“It was heated. It was one of the rare times I raised my voice. … There was a real disagreement on some of the science and some of the issues,” he said.
He said governors are working on a framework for solving sage-grouse management on their own.
“I do think it makes it hard for (federal officials) to push back,” he said.
He also said he’d be willing to designate a point person to deal with the issue at the state level. Garfield County Commissioner Mike Samson, also chairman of Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado, which hosted Hickenlooper’s Rifle visit, specifically requested that of Hickenlooper. Samson also reminded Hickenlooper that county officials are concerned about the potential loss of revenue to counties from limits on oil and gas development if the sage-grouse is listed for protection.
“I understand that clearly,” Hickenlooper said.
He said Western governors also are working to agree on a broader, common regulatory framework for oil and gas development that they can present to industry, environmentalists and Washington as to what they think is fair.
Rio Blanco County Commissioner Shawn Bolton asked Hickenlooper if he had a plan in place if lawmakers pass a measure imposing a moratorium or ban on hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas development, such as those approved by voters in some Front Range communities this fall.
Hickenlooper said such actions violate the rights of mineral owners.
“Even a five-year ban, I see that as government taking something,” he said.
Hickenlooper was questioned in both Craig and Rifle about Environmental Protection Agency proposals to regulate carbon emissions from new and existing coal-fired power plants.
“For northwest Colorado, federal regulations that cripple clean coal and natural gas would be the worst of all possible options,” said Craig City Council member Ray Beck.
Hickenlooper said requiring expensive retrofits of existing power plants doesn’t make sense, and he thinks states like Colorado that already have made significant investments in cutting emissions should get credit for that, rather than the federal government taking a hard-line approach.
“We’re not saying we don’t want to do any more work. We want to do it in a measured sense,” he said.
Hickenlooper’s tour took him into country where he’s come under heavy criticism for positions, including supporting stricter gun laws and higher renewable-energy requirements for rural electricity. Such laws even led Moffat County commissioners to ask voters there whether the county should pursue secession from the state, although voters turned down the idea.
Brandi Meeks, chairwoman of Moffat County Republicans, told Hickenlooper there’s still strong sentiment that he’s not representing all Coloradans.
“I would urge you, this next legislative session, please represent all of Colorado, not just the urban center,” she said to applause in Craig.
Hickenlooper said he thinks he failed on some measures by not getting out the facts better about why they were warranted. He gave as an example the new universal background check gun law, saying the data show a more limited pre-existing law has been shown to stop a number of violent people from buying guns.
“I don’t think we did a good job communicating that and it became a big partisan battle around the Second Amendment,” he said.
Roy Reed of Tim’s Tools in Silt came to hear Hickenlooper in Rifle on Monday and said beforehand that his sporting-good department used to be the store’s best-performing.
“They passed the gun bans. Now it’s the worst department,” he said.
Hickenlooper was greeted in Rifle by a few picketers opposing his support of oil and gas development.
“Good governors don’t frack their citizens and they don’t compromise when a species (sage-grouse) is on the brink, threatened by oil and gas development,” said Jacob Richards, who lives near Silt.
But other picketers turned out in support of energy development. Marilyn Oden of Rifle and Judy Thomsen of Battlement Mesa lamented the loss of drilling jobs to other states, something Thomsen believes is partly the result of anti-fracking politics.
“We’ve got a lot of people on welfare now that could have been working,” Thomsen said.