Rocky offered no Democratic response to GOP legislators' Roan proposal, did not report opposition to drilling

››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

Reporting on a proposal by two Republican state legislators to allocate anticipated revenue from natural gas production on the Western Slope to fund higher education, a June 28 Rocky Mountain News article did not provide remarks from Democrats and omitted widely reported criticism of a federal plan for energy leases atop the Roan Plateau.

A June 28 Rocky Mountain News article reporting on two Republican state lawmakers' proposal to earmark prospective revenues from Western Slope natural gas production for higher education and "energy-impacted communities" included no comments about the measure from Democratic legislators. Furthermore, the News neglected to report on the widespread criticism of a federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) plan to develop gas deposits on Colorado's Roan Plateau.

As The Denver Post reported, the BLM "unveiled a plan to open part of the Roan Plateau's top to oil and gas drilling" in September 2006. The Post further reported, "The plan, which officials hope will be a model for energy development, opens about half the public lands on the plateau top to drilling -- but imposes restrictions on energy development." In an article posted June 12 on the KCNC CBS4 website, the Associated Press reported that "[a]fter seven years of study, hearings and comment from state agencies, the Colorado office of the Bureau of Land Management finalized a plan last week that authorizes up to 1,570 new natural gas wells on and around the Roan Plateau over 20 years."

According to the News article, titled "Divvying up the Roan windfall," state Sen. Josh Penry (R-Fruita) and state Rep. Al White (R-Winter Park) "say they'll propose legislation to earmark half of the revenue derived from natural gas production on the Roan Plateau to a permanent trust fund for Colorado's colleges and universities." The article further reported that Penry and White "want to dedicate the other half of the revenues to energy-impacted communities to pay for roads, bridges and environmental needs." The News then quoted the two legislators without providing remarks from Democrats about the proposed legislation:

"A recent study indicates that Colorado is over $800 million behind our peers in funding our institutions of higher education," White said.

"The plan we are contemplating would enable us to quickly close that gap, while ensuring energy-impacted areas will have the money needed to mitigate impacts both in the short and long run."

Penry added that Colorado's colleges and universities are looking for a funding fix, "and communities at the center of the energy boom need to prepare their financial houses for the moment that the drilling stops. The anticipated Roan royalty windfall could go a very long way in ensuring both."

In contrast to the News, The Daily Sentinel of Grand Junction noted Western Slope leaders' opposition to Penry and White's proposal, reporting, "Rifle Mayor Keith Lambert, who along with the Rifle City Council has long opposed drilling the Roan Plateau, said it's premature to create a trust fund until the state's blue ribbon task force has finished analyzing severance tax and federal mineral leasing revenues." The June 27 article further reported:

"To have one of our elected leaders from the Western Slope take a position prior to that flies in the face of allowing that task force to do what it's charged to do," Lambert said, calling Penry's proposal an "end run" around the task force.

Western Slope leaders, including Rep. Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison, have disputed the Roan leasing revenue estimates as inaccurate and industry-generated.

Bill Grant, president of the Western Colorado Congress, said those estimates deserve much more study before they're considered reliable.

But, he said, no matter how big the windfall for the state, the Roan Plateau is still worth keeping as is.

"I don't think financial considerations should be the basis for making this kind of decision," he said of leasing the Roan Plateau.

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