Equal footing sought for conservation, energy development

Conservation should get equal treatment with energy development on federal land, Grand Valley business owners and others said Tuesday.

If anything, the Obama administration has let the balance tip in favor of energy development, according to Equal Ground, a project sparked by former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt.

“We’re not asking to dial back oil and gas,” Trevor Kincaid of Equal Ground said as the project was unveiled Tuesday in Fruita.

Equal Ground is asking that President Barack Obama and Congress set aside 4 million acres for conservation to make up the failure to keep up while leasing continued.

Under Obama, more than 6 million acres of land have been leased while 2 million have been set aside, according to the Equal Ground website, http://www.equalground.org.

Colorado Mesa University trustee Dan Robinson noted that the regional economy includes energy development as well as recreation, agriculture and other uses of public lands.

Courses of study in environmental, agricultural and other areas are thriving at Colorado Mesa and Western Colorado Community College, along with energy-related subjects, Robinson said.

“Obviously, we want to see a balance, too,” Robinson said.

“There’s an economic argument to be made for the sustainable nature” of recreation and agriculture, said Jim Spehar, a former Grand Junction mayor and Mesa County commissioner turning to point to Colorado National Monument, as well as McInnis Canyons and Dominguez and Escalante national conservation areas.

A one-to-one ratio between permanently conserved land and lands leased for 10-year periods is fair because leases can be extended and because rehabilitation falls short of complete restoration, Kincaid said.

Kincaid, who worked on the 2010 campaign for Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and has driven from Montana to Colorado and will continue to New Mexico to unveil the campaign, said he’s aware that the tour itself is dependent on gasoline to fuel the RV he drives, so the goal isn’t to eliminate the use of fossil fuels, but to balance them with conservation.

Equal Ground is a joint effort of the Center for Western Priorities, Center for American Progress, Conservation Lands Foundation and The Wilderness Society.

The door is open for an energy company to participate, Kincaid said.


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