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Tipton proposes unpopular lease swap, GarCo approves

Elise Thatcher

Congressman Scott Tipton wants to introduce legislation that would exchange leases on the Thompson Divide for new drilling rights near Paonia and Rangeley — a plan that’s nearly identical to a proposal by the oil and gas industry last year.

Garfield County Commissioners considered a draft of the bill on Wednesday, as part of a courtesy call by Tipton’s staff. Tom Jankovsky and the two other commissioners praised the swap approach.

“This takes care of a situation for us in Garfield County,” said Jankovsky. “So my position would be to ask you to move forward with this and see if we can’t get it done.”

But the same proposal prompted strong reactions last year by officials in the Roaring Fork Valley and Delta County. They said it wasn’t fair to move possible oil and gas drilling out of the Thompson Divide and into some other community. The majority of public comments during Wednesday's meeting echoed those concerns.

The twenty-five leases in question may be canceled by the BLM anyway because they weren’t properly issued in the first place. That decision is expected this summer.

In the last week, two new opponents have been confirmed for Congressman Tipton, who’s up for reelection in the fall. Carbondale resident and fellow Republican Alex Beinstein will be running in the June primary, and former State Senator and Democrat Gail Schwartz aims to be on the November ballot.

The oil and gas industry has been a top contributor for Tipton over the years, but in the current election cycle more donations are coming from real estate and financial interests, according to the campaign finance website opensecrets.org.

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