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Pro Drilling Group Kills Plan for a New National Park

A fracking friendly organization keeps one of America’s most spectacular vistas from getting vital park designation.
 
 
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A more than century-old effort to transform the breathtaking Colorado National Monument into a full-fledged national park has been thwarted by a pro-fracking organization called Friends of the Colorado National Monument (FCNM).

And while the group sounds harmless enough, and professes to include hikers, bikers, ranchers, outdoor enthusiasts, and conservationists, its website includes little more than complaints about EPA air and water regulations, and the inability of the oil and gas industry to drill in national parks and the surrounding areas.

FCNM lead a petition fight against changing the monument’s status while decrying what they call "frackophobia.” The also complained that fracking is over-regulated and bemoaned the protests and legal proceedings that have taken place in Colorado in recent years. In fact, says Colorado has become "protest central when it comes to opposition to energy development."

Democratic Senator Mark Udall and GOP Congressman Scott Tipton, both up for reelection in November, had backed the plan to change the monument to a national park in Congress. Udall says that residents seem evenly split on the plan. But after receiving a 2,500 signature petition against the plan from FCNM, Tipton backed down. Moreover, the Republican Congressman now says that he will actively oppose any plans for changing the monument into a park. Tipton now says he’s worried on how it will impact the local economy and he’s concerned over “executive-branch rulemaking,” referring to the Republican Party’s fight against President Obama using the power of executive orders.

"In a region that has experienced firsthand the adverse impacts that federal agency decisions can have on the economy and access to public lands, the community's concerns that a national park could attract additional scrutiny from federal regulators is well-founded,” Tipton said in a statement.

Under congressional protocol, any measure to change the monument’s status would have to be supported by Tipton, whose district includes the monument.

Udall also withdrew his support for the effort, saying that there needed to be more of a consensus among Colorado residents. However, he said that he is only withdrawing for  the short term, and  hopes to address this question again in the future.

But some opponents of the change of status stood on the side of environmentalism. The Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, a group of former National Park personnel, voiced concern over the proposal, specifically to a section that called for a local committee to advise the U.S. Interior Department on how to manage the site should it become a park. That section of the proposal suggested that an oil-industry representative, from the Western Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association, have a key role on the committee. They also noted that Native American tribes in the region were not singled out to be on the advisory board.

The monument is some 20,000 acres of red sandstone canyons and high-desert wilderness near Interstate 70 in western Colorado.

The backing off from a designation change by two prominent Colorado lawmakers closes the only latest chapter in trying upgrade the status of the 113-year-old monument. It’s founder, John Otto, began pushing for park status for the area in 1907. He later settled for national monument status for the dramatic red rock canyons at the site.

Cliff Weathers is a senior editor at AlterNet, covering environmental and consumer issues. He is a former deputy editor at Consumer Reports. His work has also appeared in Salon, Car and Driver, Playboy, and Detroit Monthly among other publications. Follow him on Twitter @cliffweathers and on Facebook.

 
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