WCC welcomes decisions - but will they stand?

by Dave Reed, Executive Director

Patient, long-term work by WCC and its allies has borne fruit in a flurry of positive decisions in the waning days of the Obama administration, although it remains to be seen whether the incoming Trump administration will allow them to stand.

We did it here and it didn’t kill us

In November, the Bureau of Land Management issued final standards on oil and gas air quality and waste reduction on federal and tribal lands. The new methane rules are a win for everybody – they reduce air pollution, save taxpayers money, reduce the waste of natural gas, generate additional profits for companies and mineral owners, and fight climate change.

WCC members, along with Grand Junction-based Citizens for Clean Air, have been supporting the national effort since 2012. WCC co-sponsored three community meetings on the Western Slope earlier this year, and members testified in support of the new standards at a critical hearing in Denver. Our regional network, the Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC), has played a leading role in this work as well.

Ironically, Colorado already has some of the strongest oil and gas air quality regulations in the nation – thanks to good work by many groups and many of our members in 2014. For that very reason, we were able to carry a unique and important message on the federal rulemaking: we did it here and it didn’t kill us. In fact, our biggest natural gas firms cooperated in crafting the regs.

That said, it’s very much in our interest for the standards to go national because they’ll reduce emissions from neighboring states.

The same day that the BLM issued the final rule, industry groups filed a lawsuit to block it, giving rise to concern that the Trump administration will attempt to settle the suit to kill the rule. While the rule isn’t everything we hoped for, it’s an improvement over the current situation and we’ll need to be prepared to fight to keep it.

Bennet flips on TPP

Also in mid-November, the Obama administration, bowing to the inevitable, abandoned its efforts to push the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal through the lame duck Congress.
Here again, WCC played its part in a nationwide effort to stop unfair trade deals that would benefit corporations at the expense of farmers, small businesses and the environment. Our members’ emails and phone calls contributed to Sen. Michael Bennet’s flip from support of the TPP to opposition.

Hotchkiss farmer Wink Davis, who co-chairs WCC’s Local Foods and Agriculture Committee and chairs WORC’s Ag and Food Team, met with several Congressional offices about the TPP in September.

“We are encouraged that input from ordinary Americans is prevailing over powerful multi-national corporations,” said Davis. “We support trade agreements that provide powerful paths to improve economies, working conditions, food sovereignty, and public health and safety. It’s time to create fair trade policies reflecting those values.”

Although there have been statements from trade supporters saying that they prefer to think of the TPP as being in limbo or purgatory, it’s highly questionable whether the conditions will be right for this or any agreement (especially a major multi-lateral agreement) to be revived and advanced.

Thompson Divide lease decision cuts both ways

Lastly, on a more local note, the BLM in November announced its final plan to deal with 65 illegally issued oil and gas leases within the White River National Forest. The plan drew praise from many conservationists, especially in the Roaring Fork and North Fork valleys, because it cancels 25 leases in the Thompson Divide, southwest of Glenwood Springs.

Several WCC members had helped in the effort to stop a proposed swap that would have merely shifted the Thompson Divide leases to the upper North Fork.

But others in the Colorado River Valley had been part of a separate bid to strengthen the conditions on the other 40 leases, which are scattered in the high country south of Silt, Rifle and Parachute. They weren’t pleased with the BLM’s decision, which actually rolls back the roadless-area protections of those leases.

“Municipal water resources in the Garfield County seem to be under siege,” said WCC member Leslie Robinson, who lives in Rifle. “Any community that depends on the Colorado River and its tributaries for drinking water is at risk as more drilling is approved in our watersheds. Residents of Rifle, Silt, Battlement Mesa, and Parachute find it problematic that the BLM may validate dozens of leases in our watersheds without even the minimum protections. The agency owes residents proper protection.”

The response of one of the Thompson Divide leaseholders was to immediately file plans to drill on other leases it holds in the same area. A lawsuit over the BLM’s decision is likely, which again could open the door to a settlement by the new administration.

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