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A view of the San Juan Mountains near Telluride. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

President Donald Trump’s administration on Tuesday threatened to veto the CORE Act in a statement that said the massive Colorado public lands bill puts the Western Slope economy at risk.

The White House also said that not enough local input has been addressed when it comes to the legislation, which is expected to get a vote this week in the U.S. House.

If the act — which aims to protect about 400,000 acres of public land, including around the historic Camp Hale and along the Thompson Divide — were “presented to the president in its current form, his advisers would recommend that he veto it,” the White House statement said. 

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The statement adds fuel to what’s already been a partisan split on the measure among Colorado’s congressional delegation and echoes concerns raised by U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, who is an honorary co-chairman of Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign in Colorado. The Cortez Republican’s district would be most affected by the CORE Act and includes the bulk of the land it addresses. 

“We need to have more conversation in terms of developing elements of the bill,” Tipton told The Colorado Sun on Tuesday morning. “… We haven’t had the inclusion of some voices that need to be heard.”

U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez. (Handout)

Tipton said that while he is getting closer to backing the legislation, he cannot support it in its current form. He has, notably, dropped his opposition to a major provision in the bill blocking future oil and gas leases on the Thompson Divide, an area between Carbondale and Paonia that has been a perennial battleground for environmentalists and the energy industry.

The CORE Act is being championed by two Colorado Democrats, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse, of Lafayette. It’s slated to get a vote before the full House on Thursday. 

“Coloradans know what’s best for our state – not Washington,” Bennet said in a written statement on Tuesday. “The CORE Act was drafted by Coloradans, for Coloradans – engaging with stakeholders across the state for nearly a decade to hammer out a reasonable public lands bills with broad support.”

Bennet’s office said that they had not heard from the White House about the CORE Act up until the veto threat was issued.

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet with U.S Rep. Joe Neguse (Nina Riggio, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Neguse said the legislation was created with the say of a wide variety of people, and that Republicans must decide if “they will side with President Trump or with Colorado.”

“This legislation includes input from ranchers, anglers, outdoor businesses, conservationists and local elected officials,” Neguse said in a written statement. “… As representatives in Washington, we should be following the lead of our constituents and local communities, and that is exactly what this legislation proposes. To be clear, those of my colleagues who choose to vote against this legislation will be ignoring these communities.”

The bill is a combination of four measures that have been on the table for years. Two of the largest pieces of the legislation deal with the Thompson Divide and the land around Camp Hale, where the 10th Mountain Division’s has its roots.

The CORE Act calls for roughly 100,000 acres of wilderness, recreation and conservation areas in the White River National Forest along the Continental Divide and would also designate the land around Camp Hale, near Leadville, as a first National Historic Landscape. It also includes clauses banning drilling on about 200,000 acres of public lands along the Thompson Divide.

The measure offers permanent protections, including wilderness designations, for roughly 60,000 acres of land in the San Juan Mountains in southwest Colorado. It would also formally establish the boundary for the Curecanti National Recreation Area near Gunnison and prevent mineral development on about 6,500 acres outside of Norwood at Naturita Canyon.

Tipton offered 11 amendments to the CORE Act that he wanted considered during the floor vote. The House Committee on Rules approved three of them. 

Tipton said that while the amendments would have been a good start to winning over his support for the legislation, they were not exhaustive. The fact that only a limited number will be considered, he says, adds to his inability to back the measure. In particular, he’d like to see wilderness study area designations removed from a number of areas before he supports the CORE Act.

“I can’t be dismissive of the amendments that we put forward,” he said. 

Tipton is also working on a similar piece of legislation, called the Colorado REC Act, that would mirror much of the CORE Act but has some key differences. He has been workshopping the bill with constituents and it has yet to be introduced.

Tipton said he could see himself supporting the CORE Act if adequate changes were made in the Senate. The Trump administration also said “it is willing to work with the Congress to improve it if the bill is considered further.”

U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, a Colorado Republican, is not actively supporting the CORE Act. He has not taken a position against the bill, either.  

Environmental and progressive groups are trying to put pressure on Gardner over his record on the environment and public lands.

The Colorado Sun —

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Jesse Paul is a Denver-based political reporter and editor at The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is the author of The Unaffiliated newsletter and also occasionally fills in on breaking news coverage.

A Colorado College graduate, Jesse worked at The Denver Post from June 2014 until July 2018, when he joined The Sun. He was also an intern at The Gazette in Colorado Springs and The News Journal in Wilmington, Delaware, his hometown.

Jesse has won awards for long form feature writing, public service reporting, sustained coverage and deadline news reporting.

Email: Twitter: @jesseapaul