August 15, 2008

Colorado Pols Play Blame Game GOP, Dems Agree State Loses Out, Disagree on Why

By Burt Hubbard

Democrats and Republicans alike agreed Thursday the state was shortchanged hundreds of millions of dollars on the Roan Plateau energy lease auction.

But both sides point the finger at each other as the reason why.

Gov. Bill Ritter and U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar blasted the Bush administration for rushing to lease the 55,000 acres on the Roan all at once at depressed prices.

"Today the administration and the BLM turned their backs yet again on Western Slope communities," Salazar said.

Republican state lawmakers charged that formal protests against the lease auction, including those by Ritter's administration, scared bidders away.

"Of course the protests had an impact," said state Sen. Josh Penry, R-Fruita. "The circus was complete when the governor joined environmental legal challenges that in the end massively undercut the financial returns on the Roan that the governor once claimed to be so concerned about."

Less than six hours after the BLM auctioned off 55,000 acres on the Roan for energy development for $114 million, Ritter called a news conference to denounce the meager returns. The state will get $57 million for higher education and mitigating the impacts from drilling instead of the hundreds of millions officials expected.

Ritter wanted to phase the auction of the leases over decades instead of leasing all the federally owned portion of the Roan at once, as happened Thursday. But the BLM overruled him. Ritter didn't agree with industry estimates that the leases would bring $2 billion, but he said he thought the revenue to the state should have been a lot higher than the $57 million it will get from the auction.

"Yes, I'm upset," Ritter said. "This is our resource. By leasing it all at once you get an undervalued price. The federal government has done a disservice to our state."

But Penry and State Rep. Al White, R-Hayden, said the large number of protests filed by environmental groups and the state put a damper on bidding. The leases can't be issued until the protests are resolved. Environmentalists protested leasing in a wilderness area, while the state wanted the leasing phased over decades.

"The people who bought these leases don't know whether those protests will be dealt with in a matter of months or a matter of decades," White said. "I guess the environmental community or whoever was responsible for those protests should recognize the disservice they have done the citizens."

White and Penry believe the auction could have taken in as much as $2 billion, with $1 billion going to Colorado.

State Sen. Chris Romer, D-Denver, said he thinks the BLM should redo the auction because of the low prices. In many cases, there were only two bidders for the leases.

"As an elected official and a taxpayer, I am very disappointed," Romer said. "If there are not at least 10 bids for those assets, they ought to reject all bids and start over."



Development of the massive natural gas deposits underneath the environmentally sensitive Roan Plateau has been a political football for years, and it remained so Thursday. A federal lease auction netted a disappointing $57 million for Colorado, and finger- pointing across the political spectrum was swift.

Gov. Bill Ritter "Today is a sad day for Colorado. It's a missed opportunity, one we will never get back, one that falls squarely on the shoulders of the Bush administration, which is rushing through bad fiscal policy in its waning days."

U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colorado "Someone got a bargain in today's sell-off and it wasn't the American people."

Greg Schnacke, executive director of Americans for American Energy, based in Golden. "Today was a fire sale. It was all because of the political poison that Gov. Ritter and Sen. Salazar have injected into the project."

State Sen. Josh Penry, R-Fruita "The Roan Plateau has become a legal and political circus - a Colorado case study of what's wrong with American energy policy. The circus was complete when the governor joined environmental legal challenges that, in the end, massively undercut the financial returns on the Roan that the governor once claimed to be so concerned about."

Duke Cox, Western Colorado Congress "This sale is the ultimate symbol of the heavy thumb of the energy industry and the Bush administration crushing the will and needs of local communities and drowning out the voices of citizens concerned about public health and air and water quality."

Originally published by Burt Hubbard, Rocky Mountain News.

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