Sagebrush Bill: The Guv's a Rebel at Heart

Governor Bill Ritter's colossal snit over long-brewing federal plans to drill the hell out of the Roan Plateau is just what Colorado needs right now: a Sagebrush Rebellion in reverse.

A generation ago, western governors were loudly screaming about the feds running roughshod over the wishes of the local citizenry by heaping burdensome limits on energy development and turning over more and more of the wide open spaces to those blasted tree-huggers. Whatever happened, they wondered, to the rights of the states to govern themselves (and all that federal land that happened to be surrounding them)? Now here's our guv telling the Bushies to slow down their march on the Roan because it's unnecessary and the locals don't want it.

Ritter makes some strained arguments in the letter given below, including the notion that the Bureau of Land Management should revise its process just because there was an election in Colorado. (Imagine telling the EPA it should put a moratorium on air quality standards in Denver because heck, Hickenlooper just got re-elected and is committed to squeezing the city into a slimmer carbon footprint.) But he does point out that public comment was overwhelmingly opposed to development on the Roan, and the feds are marching ahead anyway. What does that tell you about the White House's pledge to get more local input and cooperation in land-use decisions?

Fortunately, nothing in government happens very quickly. It's taken years for the BLM to get to this stage of its long-term planning on the Roan, and within a couple of years the whole shebang might be in Democratic hands. In the meantime, Ritter's stand is a refreshing shout-out for power to the people. For more of what's at stake, see our 2004 piece, "Raiding the Roan." --Alan Prendergast

Here's the text of Ritter's June 11 letter to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne:

Dear Secretary Kempthorne:

I am writing today to express my extreme disappointment with your decision to deny the State of Colorado’s request for a 120-day period to review the Roan Plateau Resources Management Plan prior to your issuing the Record of Decision. I am equally disappointed by your decision to lease the Roan for oil and gas development at this time.

As a new state Administration, we requested the limited additional review time to have the opportunity to recommend approval or modification of the plan, particularly with the enormous public concern over future leasing decisions. As you know, the Roan is a place of exceptional environmental and recreational qualities, and is of great importance to local communities. The 75,000 comments received by the Bureau of Land Management during the public review process reflected a 98% desire to refrain from leasing the top of the Roan. Your decision to ignore these public comments and limit my Administration’s participation in the process undermines efforts to build what should be a cooperative federal/state relationship.

Equally concerning is your immediate push to lease the Roan at this time. The Plateau is surrounded by other BLM land where the agency has already committed to extensive drilling. For example, your White River Management Plan adjacent to the Roan calls for 22,000 new wells over the next 15 years. The nearby Glenwood/Kremmling Management Plan calls for an additional 15,000 new wells. The Little Snake and Hiawatha Management Plans call for 6,000 additional wells. These projections are additive to tens of thousands of wells projected on nearby private lands. With approximately 120 rigs currently available in Colorado, it will be many years before the Roan would be needed to meet additional demand. There is absolutely no reason why certain special places, like the Roan, cannot be deferred for leasing while these other projects go forward.

BLM Director James Hughes’ reliance on the Naval Shale Oil Reserve statute as the reason for expedited leasing of the Roan is clearly a misstatement of the law. Nothing in the statute prevents deferring leasing decisions during the near term. In fact, BLM’s original set of alternatives for the Roan included “no-drill” options.

Similarly, Director Hughes’ reference to an earlier Colorado Department of Natural Resources plan for the Roan omits the fact that an election was held in Colorado, and that I lead a new Administration. The citizens of this State are concerned about the management of our public lands, the scale and pace of energy development, and the ability of our local communities to plan for and manage the extraordinary impacts that inevitably come with increased leasing and extraction. I am intent on finding the balance between protecting our environment, traditional economies, and special places with allowing and planning for responsible future oil and gas development.

Your decision has led me to take a more active role in working with Congressmen John Salazar and Mark Udall, as well as other members of Colorado’s Congressional delegation, to support funding limitations on the Department of Interior’s Appropriations Bill, or other legislation that will restrict BLM from going forward with leasing of the Roan during the coming year.

Finally, I share Director Hughes’ concern about the impact of his decision on the cooperating agency relationship between Colorado and the Department of Interior. This relationship must be based on a mutual respect for our respective values and missions. In the past, this relationship has worked to overcome initial disagreements and to find mutually acceptable land management plans. Unfortunately, the Department of Interior’s actions on the Roan undermine this past spirit of cooperation.


Bill Ritter, Jr. Governor

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