Vail Valley Voices: Legislation improves Western Slope environment
Vail, CO, Colorado
The governor is poised to sign landmark legislation that sets into law new protections for our water, mountains, wildlife and outdoor-recreation-based economies in Colorado.
Known as the “oil and gas rules,” these protections will help create a healthier energy industry ” one where impacts to Colorado’s public health and environment are minimized and industry continues to thrive.
Colorado’s mountain communities along the Interstate 70 corridor have a lot to gain by strengthening protections for our environment. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, outdoor recreation contributes more than $10 billion each year to Colorado’s economy. The driving force behind that economy is our wide-open spaces, pristine mountains and abundant wildlife.
Unfortunately, there’s a tension with the unprecedented development of oil and gas in the Rockies.
Just west of Eagle County, one can see the boom in development going westward on I-70. In fact, since 1999, oil and gas permits have increased by 600 percent. That development can come at a high price to mountain communities.
Well pads, drill rigs, pipelines and roads can fragment open space and wildlife habitat, reducing opportunities for outdoor recreation. Drilling near rivers can pollute our drinking-water supplies and ruin Colorado River cutthroat trout habitat.
West Slope counties are struggling with odor pollution harming local schools and communities. And private landowners who live in the mountains to enjoy the great outdoors could wake up one day to find out drilling plans are set on their property.
All those reasons are why communities came together to find a way to promote a healthier energy industry.
A little-known fact is that the town of Eagle and our mountain-town legislator, Sen. Dan Gibbs, both played a key role in the creation of these groundbreaking protections.
The Colorado Wildlife Federation and the Colorado Mule Deer Association drafted a set of protections for how oil and gas companies could do business while minimizing environmental impacts.
Those groups soon brought in the Colorado Mountain Club and other environmental organizations to discuss how those protections could best move forward.
Their meeting place was Eagle because it represented the midway point for the Front Range and West Slope people involved in the plan. And a newly elected state legislator ” Gibbs, of Silverthorne ” was recruited to carry legislation protecting wildlife in the Colorado House. The legislation passed with unanimous support.
A companion bill that brought balance to the membership makeup of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which oversees drilling regulations, also was passed. That bill also included greatly needed direction for protecting public health from drilling pollution.
The legislation kicked off what was probably the most open and expansive rule-making in the history of Colorado.
After 6,000 hours of statewide hearings, testimony and deliberations, the commission unanimously passed the new environmental and public-health protections, including the representatives of the oil and gas industry on the commission.
While some energy companies said compliance with the common-sense rules would not be a problem, others in the industry launched an aggressive campaign running full-page newspaper ads and radio ads targeting the governor and, most recently, TV ads targeting legislators such as our own state Rep. Christine Scanlan, of Dillon.
Thankfully, Gibbs, Scanlan and Gov. Bill Ritter stood strong in the face of this opposition to pass the much-needed protections.
This kind of leadership is exactly what is needed to get things done at the state Legislature, and we are grateful to have those kinds of leaders representing the central mountains of Colorado.
The new protections provide the collaboration and planning we need to help ensure that oil and gas development will be better balanced with protecting the great outdoor resources of Colorado.
Peter Runyon is an Eagle County commissioner, and Karn Stiegelmeier is a Summit County