'Historic day' for Thompson

The Thompson Divide area southwest of Glenwood Springs.

The U.S. House of Representatives approved a broad-based, Colorado public-lands protection measure Thursday, a "big day for public lands" according to the bill's sponsor, Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Lafayette.

The Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy, or CORE, Act, now faces a bigger test in the Republican-controlled Senate, with a more difficult path to passage there at least in its current form.

The measure was approved by a 227-182 vote in the Democrat-controlled House, despite concerns raised by U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, whose district includes about two-thirds of the land covered by the bill.

The measure covers about 400,000 acres of public land in Colorado. About 200,000 acres in the Thompson Divide area southwest of Glenwood Springs would be withdrawn from future oil and gas leasing. CORE would designate about 73,000 acres as wilderness, including acreage in the San Juan Mountains.

The measure also would designate the Camp Hale area, where ski troops trained outside Leadville during World War II, as the first-ever National Historic Landscape. In addition, it would formally establish the boundary for the Curecanti National Recreation Area, which already has existed for decades on the Gunnison River.

Supporters say this is the first statewide Colorado wilderness legislation to pass the House in more than a decade.

Speaking to reporters in a conference call after the vote, Neguse said the bill's passage also marks "a big day for Colorado and for some of the most iconic places in our great state."

He said the bill's passage is "the culmination of a decade of work. Coloradans have been fighting for some of the most beautiful landscapes in our country to be preserved."

Five Republicans joined in voting for the House measure, but Tipton and his fellow Republican House members from Colorado, Doug Lamborn and Ken Buck, voted against it.

Tipton cites concerns he has heard from western Colorado counties and other stakeholders directly and indirectly impacted by the bill in its current form.

"It is my hope that as this bill makes its way through the Senate that these concerns are addressed, and a more inclusive process takes place resulting in a bipartisan bill we can all support. I stand ready to work with my Colorado colleagues on both sides of the aisle to that end," Tipton said in a news release after Thursday's vote.

Neguse says no communities or counties directly affected by the bill oppose bill language applying to them.

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., is pushing the measure in the Senate.

"We'll work with anybody to get the bill passed," Bennet told reporters in the conference call with Neguse.

U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., hasn't taken a position on the bill. The White House has said it opposes the current bill draft and advisers will recommend that President Trump veto the measure if it reaches his desk.

Bennet said he hasn't been able to find a historical precedent of a president reaching out to threaten to veto a bill like the CORE bill. He called that step "completely inexplicable, particularly when the president has got to have other things to think about."

Bennet has asked the leadership of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee for a hearing on the bill.

"I don't see any reason why they won't have a hearing. I think they should and I think they will," Bennet said.

Efforts to protect the Thompson Divide from gas development have support from Garfield, Gunnison and Pitkin county commissioners and from local governments, ranchers, businesses, recreationists, conservationists and others.

"I know there will be a collective sigh of relief when the Thompson Divide is permanently protected, and I am personally encouraged by (Thursday's) vote," Glenwood Springs Mayor Jonathan Godes said in a news release from the Thompson Divide Coalition. "It is great that a majority of the good folks in Washington did the right thing to protect" Thompson Divide.

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