A group of Coloradans thinks the natural environment is at risk. Those people also think that, when united, they can more effectively address such issues. Those people include the Community Alliance of the Yampa Valley, the Western Colorado Congress and Congressman Mark Udall.
State Rep. Udall, D-Boulder, spoke to members of the two organizations and the public Saturday at Olympian Hall in Steamboat Springs about environmental and other legislative concerns, particularly three pieces of legislation Udall introduced.
Udall's bill, H.R. 1639, seeks to "establish a process for orderly resolution of one of the most important problems associated with management of federal lands." The bill is Udall's answer to help put an end to a 137-year-old mining law, R.S. 2477, which allows local governments to claim rights of way on "constructed highways." The law is at the center of Moffat County's controversial attempt to claim road rights of way over thousands of acres of largely undeveloped land across the county.
The problem with R.S. 2477, Udall said, is that there is no definition of "constructed" or "highways" in the statute, and that is allowing local governments to claim small walking paths, game trails and old jeep trails as possibilities for future roads for gas and oil exploration on some pristine lands, including national forests and wilderness areas.
"The law made sense when it started, but now it has the potential to cause some significant problems for all of us," Udall said.
Udall said his bill would establish a uniform national process for filing mining-road claims on federal lands, and it would make all claims be filed with valid evidence of a "constructed highway" and reasons for the claim. Under the bill, claims would have to be made within four years or be considered abandoned.
"If ever there was a situation where you hear someone say, 'there ought to be a law,' this is definitely a case," Udall said.
Udall also discussed his proposed legislation to help protect Colorado landowners from mineral development under their property.
The Western Waters and Surface Owners Protection Act, H.R. 3698, requires energy companies to reach an agreement with landowners before drilling for federally leased oil and gas under their property and orders oil and gas companies to take responsibility for water supplies damaged or contaminated by drilling.
"Ranchers and farmers feel like they are being run over," Udall said. "My legislation levels the playing field. It's a big mountain to climb because of the invested interests."
Udall also discussed his proposed legislation to promote the cleanup of abandoned mines in the West.
Udall said abandoned mines are dangerous and damage water quality by leaking acid and metals into streams. He cited a cleanup effort at the Pennsylvania mine near Keystone, where a volunteer group began cleaning and then abandoned their effort when a judge ruled that they would be held liable if they continued.
Several members of the community also directed questions and addressed concerns to Udall about health-care issues, large media conglomerates, alternative energy sources and voting.
State Rep. John Salazar, D-Manassa, who is running for the Third Congressional District seat being vacated by Scott McInnis, also spoke at the meeting, and echoed Udall's statements that seeking alternative energy sources would be a benefit economically and environmentally for everyone in Colorado.