Lawmakers: Use Roan Plateau money for education, communities

GLENWOOD SPRINGS Colo.

The state’s share of projected revenue from the gas-rich Roan Plateau should be set aside for higher education and for services in communities hit hardest by energy development, two Colorado lawmakers say.

State Rep. Al White and state Sen. Josh Penry said Tuesday the state could reap more than $500 million from gas-well leases on the plateau and more than $100 million a year for up to 30 years in royalties and taxes.

The state gets half of the bonuses, rents and royalties the federal government collects from energy development on federal land in Colorado.

White and Penry said they are drawing up a bill for next year’s Legislature that would put the Roan Plateau money in two permanent trust funds, one for higher education and one for energy-impact assistance.

The revenue projections are based on a Bureau of Land Management proposal unveiled this month to allow up to 1,570 new gas wells on and around the Roan Plateau over 20 years.

About 210 of those wells would be clustered on 13 well pads on the plateau top.

The proposal has run into heated opposition because the 3,000-foot-high plateau, 180 miles west of Denver, is home to some of the state’s largest deer and elk herds, mountain lions, bears, peregrine falcons, rare plants and a genetically distinct strain of cutthroat trout.

U.S. Reps. Mark Udall and John Salazar, both Democrats, are trying to get Congress to place a moratorium on drilling on the Roan.

White, R-Winter Park, and Penry, R-Fruita, defended the BLM plan, saying it would limit development to 1 percent of the Roan’s surface at any one time, preserving wildlife migration patterns and other environmental values.

White said the plan he and Penry are developing would boost spending for state colleges and universities “without tapping the citizens’ pockets.” Higher education funding was slashed when the state economy went into a recession.

The plan would also look after the needs of western Colorado communities dealing with the demands of the energy boom, he said.

“We’ve got deteriorating roads, we’ve got environmental aspects, we’ve got quality-of-life issues that need to be addressed in those areas that are producing those minerals and producing the revenues,” White said.

Bill Grant, president of the Western Colorado Congress citizens group, called the plan a “smoke screen” to distract attention from the debate over preserving the Roan Plateau.

He said Colorado should raise its energy taxes instead of waiting for a windfall from drilling on the plateau.

“If we simply tax at a rate comparable to our neighboring states, we can fund higher education along with a lot of other things needed in the state without drilling the Roan Plateau,” he said.

– Associated Press



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