Ritter On The Precipice

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After Gov. Bill Ritter had been in office for 100 days, the Rocky Mountain News asked various lawmakers to describe him so far, in one word.

The responses ran the gamut: “Positive, “inclusive,” “caring,” “moderate,” “visionary” – and from some, heavily partisan Republican lawmakers, “underwhelming,” “amateurish,” “struggling.”

Ritter’s word for the first three months was, “exciting.”

Now, six months into his first term, Ritter says he strives to be both thoughtful and consensus building – and to think about life in this state in the long term.Recently Ritter traveled to the Western Slope, to assess the Roan Plateau and the Vermillion Basin, a pristine area where the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) wants to drill and extract oil and gas.

He describes standing on a precipice, along with Sen. Ken Salazar. It may sound corny, but Ritter says the realization hit him that day, as much as it has since he was elected governor: The choices that he is making every day impact immediate generations.

Which leads us to the Roan Plateau, another pristine area near Grand Junction that is also slated for gas and oil drilling. Ritter has been highly critical of the BLM’s push, and recently wrote a letter seeking a 120-day extension of time to be able to review the federal agency’s plan. He was denied.

“… The potential development of a large scale commercial oil shale program demands a thoughtful discussion – both at a federal and state level,” Ritter wrote.

“Unfortunately, an oil shale program development schedule has been imposed that hampers the ability of the states to constructively participate in the process. Our concerns are heightened by the lack of detailed information about the technologies that would be involved; the potential effects on our lands, water, air quality, and wildlife; the conflicts with other uses of scare resources; and the potentially serious adverse impacts on local communities.”

At the same time, two Republican lawmakers, Sen. Josh Penry and Rep. Al White, have hatched a plan that involves using the proceeds from Roan drilling to put toward higher education in Colorado – current estimates show the state is $836 million short of just meeting the national average for higher education funding.

Ritter says he is happy to consider any concept that will bring revenues to higher education, but described the Penry/White proposal as “flawed.”

In a nutshell, Ritter outlines several problems: There are currently 5,000 oil and gas wells on the Western Slope, with only 120 drilling rigs. The BLM is proposing another 60,000 oil and gas wells be drilled over the next 10 to 15 years. Ritter points out that the capacity to drill is deficient, and, even if they were drilled, any monies from them wouldn’t be realized for years to come.

“Our higher education funding needs simply cannot wait 15 to 20 years,” Ritter says.

Finally, Ritter says, he – and other Coloradans –