Colorado's U.S. senators debate energy fund

Both officials agree on swift action, sending money to Western Slope

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— Colorado's U.S. senators want about $34 million or more to come back to Colorado counties affected by energy industry development.

As of Thursday afternoon, Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., and Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., had not agreed to support each other's respective plans.

However, representatives from each office said the senators would be willing to sit down and discuss the issues surrounding Anvil Points, a region of the Roan Plateau, which generated the money through energy development the past 10 years.

Anvil Points

In 1997, the federal government transferred land and mineral rights for the former Navy Oil Shale, including Anvil Points, from the U.S. Department of Energy to the Bureau of Land Management.

Since then, revenue collected from energy development has gone into a trust fund.

The fund was established to guarantee that the first revenue dollars spent would pay for any environmental cleanup and reclamation to the area, as well as reimburse the federal government for any money it spent on infrastructure there.

By the end of January 2008, the fund had grown to about $86.5 million, said Andrew Merritt, Allard's state director. About $1.5 million goes into the fund each month, he added.

If cleanup started soon, it might be completed around June, Merritt said, which would add another $7.5 million to the pot.

Cleanup costs and federal reimbursement are projected to be about $18.6 million.

Current regulations on oil and gas lease sharing state the remaining amount - an approximate $75.4 million including estimated monthly gains - will be split, with 48 percent going to the state and 52 percent to the federal government.

State laws dictate that money was set aside for energy-impacted counties, and if nothing changes, that's where the money would go, Merritt said.

But unless action is taken fast, other politicians might look at this money - which is not being used for anything - as an opportunity for their own projects, he added.

Dispute in the Senate

Salazar introduced a bill Wednesday to amend the amount states receive in oil and gas lease agreements so that states and the federal government split the money evenly, said Cody Wertz, Salazar's communications director.

On Thursday, Salazar planned to introduce another bill that would dictate 50 percent of the Anvil Points trust fund would be sent directly to Rio Blanco and Garfield counties.

The timing of Salazar's Anvil Points legislation came as something of a surprise to Brian Meinhart, Allard's west area director, who did not know Salazar's office planned to come up with its own Anvil Points plan so soon.

It is not the first time the two senators have not been on the same page regarding this issue.

Late last year, before Congress passed the Omnibus Spending Bill - the collective 2008 federal budget - Allard wanted to include legislation that would specify the Anvil Points trust fund be split between Colorado and the federal government.

Allard was told he would need Salazar's support to attach that provision to budget legislation, which Allard did not receive, Merritt said.

"Salazar said he would agree, but he wanted Allard's support on some things of his own," he said.

Among Salazar's two issues he wanted Allard to support was a one-year moratorium on new drilling across the Roan Plateau, Merritt said. Allard wouldn't, and so Salazar wouldn't support Allard's Anvil Points proposal, he added.

That's not entirely true, Salazar's communications director said. Salazar's bill directs the money to start being divided immediately and not wait for cleaning to finish.

Also, Salazar wanted to make sure the counties most affected by this development, Rio Blanco and Garfield counties, received the money.

"Sen. Salazar was concerned about counties specifically impacted by oil and gas drilling," Wertz said. "These are the two counties most affected by development on the Roan Plateau."

Allard's legislation last year did that already, Meinhart said.

"Colorado statute says those funds are to be used for those counties," he said. "There's no other place those funds could actually go."

The difference between the two, Meinhart said, is that Allard sat down with Associated Government of Northwest Colorado representatives and wished to let local officials disperse the funds as they saw fit.

"Essentially, what we're trying to do is confer with local governments and follow their wishes how they want to use the money," Meinhart said. "Our bill also had in it legislation to direct the federal share to go back to energy development.

"Part of that money would be for environmental cleanup for developed areas and some would be for energy impact relief and that would be for all western states, Colorado, Wyoming and Utah included."

Salazar recognizes other counties in the area need energy impact dollars, Wertz said, and that's why the senator moved quickly to introduce a bill increasing state shares on oil and gas leases.

"That's why we're trying to get the first fix done," Wertz said. "So all counties in Colorado get their fair share."

Invitations to come together

President George W. Bush recently introduced a spending bill allocating $27 million of the Fed's Anvil Points share to the U.S. Department of Interior, Merritt said.

"Once other members of Congress start looking at this, they might just see a big pot of money," he said.

It's not too late for Colorado, though, Merritt added.

"The federal share of that money would still be greater than $27 million, so there'd still be more to go around," he said. "We think it's still OK to get Colorado's share at this point."

Salazar also sees the writing on the wall, and does not want Colorado to get left out, Wertz said.

"The senator has said he is not going to stand around and let the federal government stick their hands in this fund," Wertz said. "We want to get these things passed for the state of Colorado and the Western Slope; get them the money they deserve."

Salazar also is introducing bills that would regulate drilling on the Roan Plateau along the lines of suggestions from Gov. Bill Ritter, Wertz said. However, Salazar is not tying environmental debates together with the Anvil Points fund, he added.

"We're dealing with this one bill at a time," he said.

Environmental concerns about expansion are irrelevant to the Anvil Points issue, Merritt said. The important thing is to get money already made in Colorado back into those counties that need it for roads, health care and other rapidly growing concerns.

"There is no disagreement among anybody that land should be cleaned up and the federal government should be reimbursed for that infrastructure," Merritt said. "We need to deal with this fund issue separately from drilling the Roan Plateau. That debate involves all the members (of Congress) and it's not going to happen fast.

"This fund should be Colorado's, and the longer we wait on this the more likely it won't be there anymore."

Collin Smith can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 209, or cesmith@craigdailypress.com

Comments

taxslave 6 years, 10 months ago

Both of these senators should step down or better yet, THROWN OUT OF OFFICE.

If you had spent the last two years viewing the senate floor debates as I have you'd be flipping your cork. These men do as they are told to do, not what they are supposed to do which is to uphold their oath of office.

Neither man has done this.

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