Sen. Salazar’s guest commentary on Roan Plateau

Senator Salazar’s guest commentary in the Denver Post on April 25, 2008 appears below. Rep. John Salazar and Rep. Mark Udall also contributed to the commentary.

Revenue, resources and the Roan Plateau

By U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar

Article Last Updated: 04/25/2008 02:08:27 PM MDT

John Salazar and Mark Udall, Democrats representing Colorado in the U.S. House, also contributed to this commentary.

“In utilizing and conserving the natural resources of the Nation the one characteristic more essential than any other is foresight,” President Teddy Roosevelt told a crowd in 1907.

President Roosevelt’s wisdom is as valuable as ever to a nation committed to protecting its land and water but that is in dire need of affordable, domestic sources of energy.

The communities of Garfield and Rio Blanco counties are living this conflict. The Roan Plateau, rising 3,500 feet out of the Colorado River Valley, boasts native trout streams and has some of the best winter elk and mule deer habitat left in the heavily developed Piceance Basin. It has long been a favorite destination for hunters and anglers.

Last year, though, the federal Bureau of Land Management announced plans to lease the Roan Plateau for energy development. Under the BLM plan, 67,000 acres of public lands on the Roan will be open for natural gas drilling as soon as this year.

We in Colorado are blessed to be home to significant energy resources, and tapping these resources is important to sustain our nation’s energy needs and to invigorate our state economy. But in its current form, the BLM plan is fundamentally flawed. It ignores the inherent environmental and ecological resource values of the Roan and their critical economic value to Western Colorado. It also would be tantamount to a fire sale on valuable natural gas resources under these public lands.

For this reason, late last year, Gov. Bill Ritter greatly improved upon the BLM’s proposal with his set of recommendations. We have introduced legislation consistent with that plan that will ensure responsible development of the energy resources under the Roan while maximizing revenues returned to the state. The bill has three core components:

First, it requires phased leasing ” leasing of only a fraction of the public lands on the Roan Plateau at one time. Phased leasing will generate higher per-acre bonus bids from industry (and therefore more revenue for Colorado) than the BLM’s “lease everything at once” approach while minimizing the impacts to wildlife and the environment of development.

Second, the bill ensures protection of critical cutthroat trout watersheds and elk and mule deer habitat on top and around the base of the plateau. Although the bill permits development activities on top of the plateau along existing ridge-top roads, it restricts surface disturbance and occupancy in “Areas of Critical Environmental Concern.”

Lastly, the bill ensures that Colorado will permanently receive its fair share of leasing revenues rather than directing this money, as the Transfer Act specifies, to the Anvil Points cleanup fund, which is in surplus.

Claims that we are shortchanging the state out of a billion-dollar windfall are not based in reality. They assume an average bid price that is almost double the highest actual bid price per acre (and 200 times the average lease sale bonus bids in the area during the past 18 months).

The BLM plan is the unsound product of an administration that has lost sight of the balance that President Roosevelt advocated for the use of our public lands. Since 1996, the federal government has leased nearly 27 million acres of the Rocky Mountain West ” an area the size of Ohio ” for oil and gas development.

We can afford to take a more deliberate approach to gas development on and around the Roan. The gas under the Roan isn’t going anywhere, and demand for natural gas is much more likely to increase than decrease.

The Roan is a special place. Our plan will restore the type of balance and foresight to public lands management that Teddy Roosevelt championed by protecting the most critical areas on the top of the Roan while providing the most benefit to the state of Colorado.