Local conservation leaders celebrate public lands win, push for cleaner air
Local conservationists celebrated a big federal win late Tuesday on public lands, while simultaneously continuing to push hard at the state level for tougher air-quality regulations on Colorado’s Western Slope.
The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the Natural Resources Management Act by a 363-62 margin on Tuesday, including the renewal of the Land and Water Conservation Fund that has pumped more than $268 million into Colorado parks, playgrounds, trails and more.
Six of Colorado’s seven U.S. Representatives voted in favor of the bill, which has helped to pay for several local projects in Eagle County. The only no vote was from Colorado Republican Rep. Ken Buck in northeastern Colorado, while both Democrat Joe Neguse and Republican Scott Tipton, whose districts both include parts of Eagle County, voted in favor of the bill.
Both of the state’s U.S. Senators — Democrat Michael Bennet and Republican Cory Gardner — pushed hard for the package of legislation, especially its renewal of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which had been stalled for months in the midst of partisan squabbling over public lands. The Land and Water Conservation Fund for many decades has used offshore drilling fees, not taxpayer money, to fund conservation projects.
“This kind of restores our confidence in our federal government,” said Kim Langmaid, a Vail Town Council member and the founder of the Walking Mountains Science Center. “I was surprised and it was great to see how many local projects truly benefit from (the LWCF). We’re so dependent on our public lands and natural resources that it’s really important this passed and will continue to support local efforts.”
In Colorado, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has helped preserve places like the Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area, Great Sand Dunes National Park and has built boat launches on the Colorado River. The broader bill protects a wide variety of public lands that contain high-value fish and wildlife habitat, including extending the authorization of the Upper Colorado Endangered Fish Recovery Implementation Program.
“Passing this package of bills is a huge win for sportsmen and women,” said Scott Willoughby, an Eagle-based Colorado field coordinator for Trout Unlimited. “Anglers and hunters know first-hand what it means to be connected to a place and to the fish and wildlife that make a place special.”
Willoughby added that Trout Unlimited is still working with Congress to secure dedicated funding, and the Natural Resources Management Act (SB 47) still needs the signature of President Donald Trump.
Fighting for cleaner air
At the state level, local elected officials and conservation advocates also weighed in on efforts to strengthen air-quality regulations on the Western Slope and make them just as tough as existing rules for oil and gas drilling on the Front Range.
Langmaid joined Eagle County Commissioners Jeanne McQueeney and Kathy Chandler-Henry — as well as 24 other county and municipal officials from 14 Western Slope jurisdictions — in sending a letter to the Statewide Hydrocarbons Emissions Reduction (SHER) Task Force urging stringent protections against methane and ozone emissions from oil and gas drilling.
At present, Colorado’s brown cloud is largely viewed as a Front Range problem, or at least a Denver metro one. But Garfield County, the second-most drilled in the state behind only Weld County on the Front Range, is just to the west of Eagle County along Interstate 70, and drilling in southwestern Colorado near Durango has contributed to a massive methane hot spot.
On Wednesday, the SHER task force met with the state’s Air Quality Control Commission on whether Colorado rules to cut methane and ozone pollution — first passed in 2014 — should be adopted as mandatory standards applying to all oil and gas operations around the state.
Asked why a ski town like Vail or a county like Eagle, where there’s no oil and gas drilling, should be concerned about a stronger statewide air-quality standard, Langmaid said all of Colorado is interconnected and residents must breathe the same air.
“Although Vail may not have natural gas drilling in its backyard, we are in an integral part of the western Colorado community,” Langmaid said. “The health of Colorado and all of its people is a significant concern, and Vail should use its leadership position to take a stand on this issue. The people who contribute to the success of our ski resort industry live across that state.”
Langmaid also views methane emissions, which are substantially more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas, as a big contributor to climate change and therefore a threat to the state’s ski industry.
“In addition to the public health concerns, we also realize that methane emissions and use of natural gas contribute to global climate change, and that’s where mountain resort communities like Vail do take an active position and have set greenhouse gas emission goals,” Langmaid added. “We all need to work together to protect Western Colorado and our winter tourism-based economies from the negative impacts of climate change.” Click here to read the Western Leaders Network letter to the Statewide Hydrocarbons Emissions Reduction (SHER) Task Force in its ongoing work with the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission.