As the country continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, the second month of the Biden Administration defined itself with a wave of pro-conservation appointees to lead the Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Land Management. Among major issues of importance for the North Fork Valley’s public lands, the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act passed through the House of Representatives for a third time, signaling the broad bipartisan support for the bill which would withdraw over 200,000 acres of lands from future oil and gas leasing in the Thompson Divide and would create a coal mine methane capture pilot program for abandoned coal mines in Delta county. As the air gets warmer and the valley feels at the cusp of full-blown spring, here are some things you should know.
The U.S. Re-Joins the Paris Climate Agreement
Following President Biden’s day one Executive Order, the United States officially re-joined the Paris Agreement on February 19, 2021. The agreement, which aims to substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions in an effort to limit global warming, includes commitments from 178 countries to cut climate pollution. Re-joining the Paris Accord represents just one piece of President Biden’s climate agenda, which also includes a just transition for fossil-fuel dependent communities, a commitment to protect 30% of the country’s land and water by 2030, and the creation of a Civilian Climate Corps which creates jobs for young people in environmentally-friendly careers.
Nada Culver Appointed to Head Bureau of Land Management
On February 23rd, the Department of the Interior announced that Nada Culver, an environmental attorney with the Audubon Society, will serve as the Deputy Director for the Bureau of Land Management, a position recently filled by William Perry Pendley. Culver will perform the duties of the director of the agency, and lead the BLM, until someone is appointed to the Director role. A longtime advocate for public lands, Culver has previously served as senior director and senior council for policy and planning for the Wilderness Society, where she led the BLM Action Center focused on land use planning processes and management policies.
CORE Act is passed through the House for the third time
The Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy (CORE) Act was passed through the House a third time on Feb 26, 2021 as part of a larger public lands package which includes the Colorado Wilderness Act and the Grand Canyon Protection Act, among others. For the North Fork Valley, the CORE Act would permanently protect 200,000 acres of public lands from future oil and gas development in the Thompson Divide on McClure Pass, create a pilot program to capture methane leaking out of inactive coal mines in Delta, Gunnison, and Garfield counties, and would formally delineate the boundaries for the Curecanti National Recreation Area which surrounds Blue Mesa reservoir. Supported by Colorado Senators and President Biden, the bill will await hearings in the Senate before moving to President Biden’s desk.
Joe Neguse appointed to Lands Committee
On Wednesday, February 17th, 2021, Representative Joe Neguse of Colorado’s second district was elected to chair the U.S. House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands. Neguse will replace Rep. Deb Haaland, who will leave the subcommittee to head the Department of the Interior. Generally, proposed legislation begins in committees throughout the House and Senate, and committee members play key roles in stewarding select bills to the greater House and Senate floors. Having conservation champions serve on committees such as the National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands subcommittee is crucial to implementing greater conservation priorities of the Biden Administration. Rep. Neguse is a co-sponsor for the CORE Act in the House, and represents the first Coloradan and African American to hold the position as chair.
Deb Haaland nominated to head Department of Interior
Following a contentious nomination hearing, Representative Deb Haaland of New Mexico is poised to head the Department of the Interior. This would be the first time a Native American has been called on to lead the agency, and she would be the first Native American to serve in a Presidential cabinet position. As head of the Department of the Interior, she will oversee the management of almost 500 million acres of public lands, which include National Parks, oil and gas drilling sites, and habitat for endangered species. She will play a central role in implementing President Biden’s climate agenda moving forward, including determining the future of the BLM headquarters (currently stationed in Grand Junction) and overseeing the federal oil and gas leasing moratorium.
Equality Act passed through House
Federal legislation which will ensure protections for LGBTQ Americans in employment, housing, education, and other areas has passed through the House in February and is on to the Senate, where it will await a hearing. The bill will amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to protect people from being discriminated against based on secual orientation and gender identity. “Too many states do not have laws that explicitly protect LGBTQ+ individuals from discrimination,” President Biden said in an interview. “It’s wrong to deny people access to services or housing because of who they are or who they love.”
Governor Polis delivers his “State of the State” address
On Wednesday, February 17th, Governor Polis delivered an annual address to the state of Colorado, in which he reflected on a year of global pandemic and historic wildfire. The focus of his address was on the economic growth of Colorado as the state moves forward in 2021. He highlighted priorities such as repairs and upgrades for roads across the state, expansion of broadband internet, and health care. He also mentioned limiting carbon emissions through changes in the state’s electric utilities, increasing visitation to state parks, and reducing wildfire damage.
Paonia In Motion continues to plan parks and trails in and around town
A new localized planning process aims to create a “community-driven strategy to be used to guide decisions about parks, recreation amenities/programs, trails, and community gathering spaces” in and around Paonia. Named Paonia In Motion, the project, put forth by the Town of Paonia, offers multiple ways for residents to be involved in the process, including community input meetings, events, and online interactive maps and idea walls. To get involved in the process, please visit PaoniaInMotion.com.
Town of Paonia sends letter to Hickenlooper, Bennet
On February 9th, the Town of Paonia sent a letter to Senator Hickenlooper and Senator Bennet asking them to continue working with the community on a path forward after the approval of the Bureau of Land Management’s final plan for the Uncompahgre Field Office. The letter describes in detail how the long land-use planning process has affected communities of Paonia and asks both Senator’s to work with the Town for a way forward.
Colorado College releases its 11th Annual State of the Rockies poll
The State of the Rockies poll, conducted annually since 2010, identifies the priority of western voters on topics such as climate change and environmental issues. The 2021 poll, conducted between Jan. 2nd and Jan. 13th in eight states including Colorado, Arizona, Wyoming, and others, found that 81% of voters support a national goal of protecting 30% of lands and waters by 2030, 73% supported stopping or strictly limiting new oil and gas development using public lands, and two thirds of respondents favor a shift to produce 100% of energy from clean, renewable sources over the next 10 to 15 years.