Politics

U.S. House votes to expand Colorado federal lands, limit oil and gas drilling on them

After considerable debate among themselves, Colorado’s U.S. representatives split neatly along party lines Friday during a vote to expand and add protections for the state’s federal lands.

The state’s four House Democrats voted in favor of the large public lands package and Colorado’s three House Republicans voted against. It passed the House by a vote of 227-200 and now goes to the U.S. Senate, where its fate is uncertain.

“The bottom line is this,” Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Lafayette, said during a debate Friday, “we believe that some places should be set aside permanently from extraction, because some landscapes … are simply too special to be mined, drilled, or excavated.”

Included in the package were bills by Neguse and Rep. Diana DeGette, a Denver Democrat, both of which had passed the House in prior years but not been considered by the Senate.

Neguse’s Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act would preserve Continental Divide land in the White River National Forest, designate more of the San Juan Mountains as wilderness and safeguard about 200,000 acres in the Thompson Divide from oil and gas leases, its most controversial provision. It would also create the nation’s first national historic landscape at Camp Hale, where the Army’s 10th Mountain Division trained for World War II.

DeGette’s Colorado Wilderness Act is grander in scope. As she said on the House floor Thursday, “This is legislation I’ve been working on for more than two decades to permanently protect about 650,000 acres of wilderness in 36 unique areas in Colorado,” including Handies Peak near Silverton, the Dolores River Canyon and Little Bookcliffs near Grand Junction.

The public lands package, which also included restrictions on uranium mining near the Grand Canyon, was the subject of considerable debate among Colorado’s House members Thursday and Friday, with Neguse and DeGette in favor and Rep. Lauren Boebert, a Silt Republican, opposed.

Most of the Colorado land affected by the legislation is in Boebert’s congressional district.

“Seriously? This is the approach we’re taking?” Boebert said on the House floor Thursday. “Democrats want to stop mineral production, lock up our lands and depend on our enemies in Russia, Saudi Arabia and China for our energy, all while pretending to be green.”

Boebert criticized Colorado Democrats for writing and passing legislation that affects land outside their districts, calling them “not-in-my-backyard extremists.” She asked rhetorically, “Can anyone here imagine me legislating away any parts of Denver or Boulder?”

“After the past year of statewide lockdowns, the last thing communities in my district need is further restrictions imposed by the federal government on what they can do on public lands,” Boebert continued. “The (Democratic) majority is silencing the people of my district in order to ram through a 3-million-acre land grab.”

Republican Reps. Ken Buck of Windsor and Doug Lamborn of Colorado Springs also voted nay. Buck said 36% of Colorado land is already federally controlled and there’s no need to add more. Lamborn called it “the largest land grab in Colorado’s history.”

Along with Neguse and DeGette, Democratic Reps. Jason Crow of Aurora and Ed Perlmutter of Arvada voted in favor of the bill. In a speech on the House floor, Crow said it will “grow the outdoor recreation economy, help create jobs and protect hundreds of thousands of acres of Colorado land for future generations.”

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