Western Colorado has seen the extractive industry come and go, so U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., and his brother, U.S. Congressman John Salazar, D-Manassas, hope to preserve Colorado’s natural beauty in unique places such as the Roan Plateau for future generations. However, both are striving for a balance between energy development and protecting the environment.Making it a political family affair, the Salazar brothers made a tour of energy-impacted towns in northwest Colorado on Tuesday, stopping in Steamboat, Craig, Meeker and Rifle.
“Rifle is definitely ground zero on energy development,” noted Ken Salazar to a group of about 80 citizens, local officials, environmentalists and energy industry representatives at the Re-2 school district’s community room in Rifle. “I don’t think this time it’s going to fade away.”
Rifle is located in Western Garfield County, which has seen a dramatic rise of drilling permits — in the past three years alone over 44 percent of the new permits approved in the state were in Garfield County.
Ken Salazar noted that it was possible to sit down with the energy industry and resolve conflicts such as drilling in Grand Junction’s watershed.
“I have had other great conversations with Antero Resources and their community-impact plan with Silt and Rifle residents,” Ken Salazar said. “We need more cooperation with industry, a word missing in a lot of conversations.”
Both Salazar brothers said they were upset by the recent Bureau of Land Management ruling that would permit drilling in most of the environmentally sensitive areas on top of the Roan Plateau. Gov. Bill Ritter had proposed setting aside a portion of the Roan for protection and developing a phased-drilling plan that would not allow drilling to proliferate until reclamation was completed after each phase.
“Ritter negotiated in good faith with the BLM,” John Salazar told the audience. “The fight’s not over.”
“The BLM have not proven to be good stewards of the land nor do they protect wildlife habitat,” added Ken Salazar. “We shouldn’t have to compromise Colorado’s beauty for energy development.”
Ken Salazar said he also hopes that monies left in the Anvil Points Oil Shale trust fund will flow back to Rifle and Meeker to help mitigate the impacts from the current energy boom.
“The biggest obstacle that we have is the White House,” noted John Salazar to the audience. “However, we won’t be able to accomplish much this year with this administration.” Salazar believes Congress will restore the 50-50 split with states on federal mineral tax revenues. The Bush administration changed the formula last year to a 48-52 split, funneling more funds back to the federal government.
“I was happy to have both of them here in Rifle paying attention to our issues,” said Ed Sands, a Rifle attorney. It had not been previously announced that John Salazar was joining his brother on the tour.
Kristi Pollard, a spokesperson for Chevron, which has drilling rigs dotting the landscape between Meeker and Rifle, said she was pleased with what the Salazar brothers had to say at the informal meeting. “It sounds like they are looking for a balance between the environment and energy development — Chevron wants that as well.”
Photo of Sen. Ken Salazar in the foreground, Rep. John Salazar behind him at the Rifle meeting. By Leslie Robinson