Guest Columnist: Red tape or red herring? |

Guest Columnist: Red tape or red herring?

Luke Schafer

Luke Schafer

In what seems to be an annual occurrence like the Perseid meteor shower, optimism on the upcoming Broncos season, and lamenting the impending school year, so goes the usual cries of eliminating regulations and cutting red tape under the auspices of fostering development of our natural resources.

This year's initial summer volley into the area of anti-regulation came from Congressman Kevin McCarthy, the House Majority Whip from California, and Senator John Barrasso, of Wyoming.

In two complementary bills that have been dubbed "The Great Outdoors Giveaway," McCarthy and Barrasso have proposed legislation that would have the Bureau of Land Management release more than six million acres of Wilderness Study Area from protection and lift protection from some 36 million acres of U.S. Forest Service lands.

Here in Colorado, that means roughly four million acres of the state's most iconic and wild places would be stripped of protections under the guise of economic stimulation.

"The Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act would help create jobs and grow local economies across the United States," McCarthy said.

I won't profess to know what the economy of Bakersfield, Calif. (McCarthy's home) is based upon, but he evidently hasn't bothered to understand how some Western economies work.

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In places like Moffat County, where more than $30 million comes into our economy from hunting and wildlife, Roadless Areas and Wilderness Study Areas are integral to creating healthy herds and growing trophy animals.

Because of that fact, just recently the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation retracted its support of the bill.

"RMEF cannot endorse the bill because of its potential negative impacts to roadless areas," the organization stated.

Much of anti-conservation rhetoric can be tied back to the mineral leasing reforms instituted by the Department of Interior in 2010. These common-sense reforms focused on fostering greater public involvement in the mineral leasing process by informing landowners when the minerals under their land were slated for lease and providing more adequate time for the public to comment on proposed leasing decisions.

The other intention of the reforms was to limit the amount of legal protests made on proposed leases by addressing issues at an earlier stage in the process. Sure enough, from January to July this year, BLM reported that just 8 percent of the parcels offered were protested.

The fact is that in the first quarter of 2011, Colorado produced 357 billion cubic feet of natural gas, which was more produced than even at the height of the most recent boom in 2008.

When looked at nationally, the oil and gas industry added 17,200 new oilfield jobs, according to Bureau of Labor Standards. Individual companies have been reporting huge profits and increased production.

Haliburton reported it had doubled profits during the second quarter in comparison to the year previous. Baker-Hughes, Inc. doubled its North American income to $440 million, from the second quarter compared to the same time in 2010, and has added 2,200 jobs in the last 12 months.

Just as was said when Colorado passed new oil and gas regulations in 2007, the industry will survive and thrive despite new regulations that engage the public and protect our quality of life.

Even our own Congressman Scott Tipton has jumped on the bandwagon, announcing that he and Rep. Doug Lamborn will be hosting an oversight hearing of the House Subcommittee of Energy and Mineral Resources next week in Grand Junction.

Rep. Tipton stated in a news release for the hearing, "Through this hearing, I hope to shed light on some of the opportunities we have to jump start responsible production of our oil shale reserves, and find solutions to spur on job creation in Colorado and across the nation."

However, since the Congressman has entitled his hearing as "American Jobs and Energy Security: Domestic Oil Shale the Status of Research, Regulation and Roadblocks," it sure seems as if he has already made up his mind on what the supposed solutions are to the problem he perceives.

The fact that anyone believes that a regulatory framework is the obstacle to commercial oil shale production is a sign their head is planted firmly in the sand.

Oil shale development proponents such as Shell Oil have routinely stated they are a decade or more away from commercial oil production.

There are currently tens of thousands of acres of public land (and even more private land) currently available to companies for research and development, so access isn't the issue.

The fact is we have been attempting to squeeze oil out of a rock in an economically, environmentally and socially responsible manner for decades in this country.

Regulations haven't been the obstacle. Rather, it has been the reality that no one has figured it out yet.

Some day we may see a robust oil shale commercial development in Northwest Colorado, but mortgaging our natural heritage for the hope of a big payoff down the road isn't a sound investment strategy. There is nothing to be ashamed of by taking a careful and cautious approach to a form of development that has such a checkered past.

Everyone can agree that unnecessary impediments to job creation should be removed. However, bedrock environmental laws that protect our quality of life and are a crucial component to our custom and culture should not be the focal point by partisans.

Instead of attacking the problems to job growth and creation such as reasonable access to credit, affordable health care, a simplified tax code, etc., some legislators have decided that ideology will be their guiding light and they will only act in expedient fashion when it comes to issues of re-election.

We need real solutions to real problems, and what is being provided by some of our elected officials is nothing more than a red herring.

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