Should Garfield County Commissioners use taxpayer dollars to pay for a partisan study refuting government data on Greater sage-grouse habitat? Should our elected officials be putting a thumb on the scale in favor of industry when they should be working alongside our Western neighbors to find a serious solution to one of our most pressing energy issues?
Those are questions I was left wondering after reading John Stroud’s story in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent yesterday. Stroud revealed that the commissioners had agreed to further pay partisan consulting firm American Stewards of Liberty an additional $15,000 to complete their ‘alternative study’ on Greater sage-grouse habitat in northwestern Colorado. Overall, Garfield County has authorized over $200,000 be spent on outside consultants in preparation to claim federal government data is flawed.
No doubt, there are major potential implications to the Colorado economy should the Greater sage-grouse be listed as an “endangered species.” But rather than working with stakeholders to find real solutions in the face of scientific data, no matter how discouraging, Garfield County Commissioners have chosen to mess with the numbers and shortcut the law rather than finding an effective approach to mitigate the underlying problem.
Just this year, Commissioner Tom Jankovsky told the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee “We simply request the BLM abide by FLPMA and their own statutes and regulations to resolve policy conflicts at the local level. Then, not only would litigation be avoided, but solutions would be put in place that truly benefit the sage-grouse.” Why Garfield County Commissioners believe paying thousands to an out of state consulting firm with a strong history of partisan fights will reduce potential conflict is puzzling.
Last year, a bi-partisan poll found a majority of Garfield County residents opposed the hiring of American Stewards of Liberty. Yet here we are. Garfield County residents should be fuming to see their taxpayer dollars spent for political games, rather than used to bring industry, government and other stakeholders to the table.
Of course, this is just the latest feather in the commissioners’ questionable cap. In 2012, Garfield County Commissioners and colleagues from several other Colorado counties traveled to Vernal, Utah, for a closed-door meeting with oil shale industry lobbyists that violated open meetings law. That meeting was part of a failed effort to undermine the federal government’s recently approved oil shale plan, which has been hailed by the Rocky Mountain Farmer’s Union, among others, as “balanced” and “smart.” It was at this very meeting that commissioners began hatching their plan on the Greater sage-grouse.
The Greater sage-grouse has become a favorite punching bag for Republicans across the country – including members on the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee. Last month in Montana, U.S. House Natural Resources Committee claimed the Endangered Species Act had become a “sue and settlement” tool for groups opposed to economic development on federal lands. Never mind the science that leads the government to ESA decisions under the law that Congress itself passed.
Oil and gas development is an important piece of the Colorado economy and for Garfield County. But calling into question the findings of career scientists is only likely to breed conflict. Should the Greater sage-grouse be listed, Garfield County Commissioners will be partly to blame. Instead of finding solutions and working with all stakeholders on the ground, Garfield County Commissioners have resorted to spending taxpayer dollars on hyper-partisan research while parroting industry rhetoric. That’s not a solution, that’s adding more fuel to the fire.