Congressman drops support for monumental change

Scott Tipton, US Congressman
Scott Tipton, US Congressman
Mark Udall, US Senator
Mark Udall, US Senator

Kelly Sloan, The Business Times

U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton has announced he will not draft or introduce any legislation to redesignate the Colorado National Monument as a national park — and oppose any attempts to do so in Congress.

The announcement came at the conclusion of a 90-day public comment period on a draft proposal for park status initiated by Tipton and U.S. Sen. Mark Udall and based on recommendations from a five–member community working group created by the two lawmakers.

The comments that were submitted revealed a stark divide in the community over  plans to change the Colorado National Monument near Grand Junction to a national park.

Tipton, a Republican in whose 3rd Congressional District the monument is located, cited a lack of community consensus as his reason for withdrawing support for the concept.

“From the beginning, I approached this process from the standpoint that should the community, with consensus from all sectors, want to change the Colorado National Monument to a national park, then I would, as their representative, listen to their input with the condition that it be done in a way that would have no adverse impact to existing industries or economic development,” Tipton said in a statement released by his office. “This process has made it clear that not only is there no community consensus on the issue, but that there are many concerns regarding potential adverse impacts the change could impose on the local economy with regard to increased regulation and federal government scrutiny.

“The lack of local support and consensus closes the issue, and I will not draft nor introduce legislation to change the status of the monument, and I will actively oppose any outside attempts to do so in the House of Representatives.”

At a public hearing conducted by Tipton and Udall in Grand Junction in May, supporters and opponents of the park plan were on hand to state their cases. Supports said changing the monument to a park would increase the prestige of the site, resulting in more tourism that would boost the regional economy. Opponents raised concerns local industries could be affected by increased federal scrutiny and added regulations that could include more stringent air quality controls, buffer zones and other restrictions.

Udall, a Democrat from Colorado, acknowledged in his own statement the divisions over the proposed change, but said more discussion is needed.

“Although the results of the comment period show more consensus is needed before we can move forward with legislation, this is a discussion community leaders, business owners and residents should continue to have,” Udall said. “In the meantime, I will continue to fight in Congress to ensure the National Park Service works closely with the community and local residents to keep the monument a vital part of Mesa County and the Western Slope.”

The leaders of local business groups said they agreed with Tipton’s analysis of the situation on the ground and urged lawmakers to redirect their focus to other issues.

“We in this community simply could not reach consensus on this issue after three years of discussions,” said Diane Schwenke, president and chief executive officer of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce. “It is time to move on with other job-creating strategies that can garner the widespread support needed to be successful.”

David Ludlum, executive director of the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association said, “Senator Udall and Congressman Tipton demonstrated great deference to public input on this matter.”

Ludlum voiced concerns the same level of public input has not been sought in other recent federal lands designations. “We hope their example leads President (Barack) Obama to do the same when it comes to unilateral decrees under the Antiquities Act that, unlike the national monument discussion, receive zero public input.”

In further explaining his decision to withdraw support for the park concept, Tipton said many of the concerns he heard from local opponents were valid.

In a region that has experienced the adverse effects federal agency decisions can have on the economy and access to public lands, concerns a national park could attract additional scrutiny from federal regulators are well-founded, Tipton said. He cited an announcement by the National Park Service it would no longer allow the transportation of fuel along monument roads to Glade Park, a decision that subsequently was withdrawn in the face of considerable public opposition.

“The likelihood for legislation to pass both the House and Senate without impacting current air quality standards, buffer zones and travel on the monument is miniscule,” Tipton said.“Even if it did, it doesn’t pass the straight-face test to assume that it wouldn’t draw the attention of agency bureaucrats and generate a slew of litigation from outside groups pushing for more stringent restrictions that could drastically impact existing industries in Mesa County.”

“Furthermore, there is no guarantee that the letter of the law would be followed by federal agencies,” he added, pointing to recent actions by the Environmental Protection Agency and Forest Service to make the transfer of water rights to those agencies conditions of permit renewals, a practice which Tipton introduced legislation to prohibit.

Tipton said the uncertainty surrounding the change would impose adverse economic impacts. “When it comes to growing economic opportunity and creating jobs, it is done successfully through less regulatory uncertainty, not more,” he said.