The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Economy Act on Thursday by a vote of 227 to 181.
The bill, which aims to protect some 400,000 acres of public land from resource exploration — including the Thompson Divide area near Carbondale — heads next to the Republican-controlled Senate.
President Trump has threatened a veto, and U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, whose 3rd Congressional District includes most of the land impacted by the bill, voted against it. Tipton’s district includes Aspen and Pitkin County.
In a statement, Tipton said he was getting closer to support for the act, but he felt that some provisions needed more work. Tipton offered 10 amendments to the bill, three of which the House Rules Committee allowed to be debated on the House floor.
Tipton also sought to have the bill sent back to the National Resources Committee, arguing that it needed more work on how it addressed low-level military flyovers, in light of the Army National Guard’s High Altitude Aviation Training Site being located close to lands that would become new wilderness areas as a result of the bill.
Tipton said on the House floor that HAATS is a crucial training ground for pilots learning to fly in mountainous environments and thus critical to America’s national security interests. The bill’s regulatory changes could threaten the certainty under which HAATS operates, he said.
The bill’s sponsor, U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Boulder, represents the 2nd Congressional District that also includes some of the CORE Act-protected lands. He replied that the HAATS issue had been addressed, and read from a letter from HAATS leadership thanking proponents of the bill for their work “mitigating” concerns they had about any potential flyover restrictions. Neguse also read from language in the CORE Act stating that the bill will not affect flyovers.
Neguse said the bill will protect the ability to hunt, fish, hike, camp and ski.
“It’s about a Colorado way of life and protecting our public lands,” he said. “The experiences we have outdoors with our loved ones bonds us together.”
The bill is about “ensuring we protect our most pristine and treasured places for generations long after we’re gone,” Neguse said. “That is the essence of our service — leaving a better world for those who come next.”
The CORE Act would withdraw 200,000 acres of public land in the Thompson Divide area from future oil and gas leasing. This represents the culmination of more than a decade of effort from a local coalition including environmentalists, sportsmen and ranchers to stop new energy development in the vast landscape between Carbondale and Paonia that includes prime wildlife habitat and headwaters for multiple river systems.
“For more than a decade the Thompson Divide Coalition has worked with local communities around the Divide to build consensus through collaboration and compromise,” says a press release from the group, issued after the bill passed. “Title III of the CORE Act reflects a middle-ground solution that protects the Thompson Divide area from the threat of new oil and gas leasing, while respecting valid and existing rights. It has broad support from the local community, including Garfield, Gunnison and Pitkin counties, local municipalities, businesses, ranchers, sportsmen, recreational users and even an energy company with leases in the area.”
The bill brings together four pieces of preexisting legislation, some of which have been around for 10 years. It would also create a first-of-its-kind National Historic Landscape designation to protect Camp Hale near Leadville, where 10th Mountain Division alpine fighting troops trained during World War II.
It also would create new wilderness areas in the San Juan Mountains and along the Continental Divide, while formalizing the boundary of the Curecanti National Recreation Area near Gunnison and protecting Naturita Canyon, near Norwood, from mineral development.
The White House, on Tuesday, issued a statement saying that President Trump would likely veto the CORE Act if it reached his desk as drafted.
“Rural communities have raised concerns that the land-use restrictions included in [the CORE Act] would have negative effects on local economies and, as evidenced by the committee process, it appears that local sentiment has not been adequately taken into account when developing this bill.”
The statement notes that the administration is “willing to work with Congress to improve it if the bill is considered further.”
A letter to Tipton from five county commissioners — including Greg Poschman from Pitkin County — states that all aspects of the bill have been vetted with local stakeholders and that suggestions to the contrary are disingenuous.
“You may not have been aware that other leaders in Colorado were combining previously vetted and introduced legislation into the CORE Act until a week before it was introduced, but your office was well aware of each of the designations in your district included in the bill,” the letter says.