CORE Act: 2021 the year to ‘get it done’

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Bennet and Hickenlooper hopeful of passage

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  • The Dillion Pinnacles in the Curecanti National Recreation Area. Courtesy NPS.
    The Dillion Pinnacles in the Curecanti National Recreation Area. Courtesy NPS.

The Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy (CORE) Act was reintroduced to the U.S. House and Senate on Tuesday. The bill, which would impact large pieces of federal land in Gunnison County, failed to pass in the Senate in 2020. But Colorado Senator Michael Bennet said he expects that the bill will become law this year.

“I think we should pass it this year, either as a standalone bill or with a group of other public lands bills. How that comes together, I can’t tell you exactly, but I feel very confident that we’ll get it done this year,” said Bennet, a Democrat who has worked on the legislation for more than a decade.

Bennet was joined at a Tuesday press conference by Congressman Joe Neguse, D-Eagle County, and Colorado Senator John Hickenlooper and Gunnison County Commissioner Jonathan Houck, both Democrats, as well.

Neguse, who reintroduced the act in the House on Tuesday, has guided the CORE Act to passage there twice before. He said at the press conference that he was confident he could do it again.

“As we reintroduce both the House and the Senate legislation today, I’m just so excited about its progress, and I have no doubt that this is the year we make the CORE Act reality,” Neguse said.

Neguse was asked about whether he could get the support of Republican Congresswoman Lauren Boebert, who represents Gunnison County. Neguse, citing bipartisan support for the bill in past sessions, said he was “hopeful that we’ll ultimately be able to earn the support of the entire Colorado congressional delegation.”

The Times reached out to Boebert’s office for a comment on whether the congresswoman would support the bill but did not receive a reply as of press time.

Hickenlooper made the CORE Act part of his campaign to unseat former Senator Cory Gardner last year. As a newly appointed member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Hickenlooper has a chance to push the legislation to passage. He said he will work hard to see that happen.

“The work that Michael Bennet and Joe Neguse have done to position this, I think, allows us the opportunity to get it done. And I’m not taking anything for granted. I think it’s going to take a lot of talking and a lot of work, but it is so unusual to have a bill where the county commissioners, Republican and Democrat, support that the land in their county, that is part of this bill, should be protected in this manner. When I’ve been saying that to Republicans and Democrats here, I’ve gotten initially positive responses,” said Hickenlooper joining the Zoom call from the Capitol.

“Obviously I’m new to the Senate, and I’ve learned that nothing is for sure. There are no layups. Everything is the result of really making sure people understand why this is such a good idea,” he said.

Houck emphasized that the CORE Act would protect the productivity of the Curecanti National Recreation Area and the Thompson Divide and in so doing protect a supply of clean air and clean water for recreation and agriculture.

“Gunnison County is so lucky to be in the middle of these conversations7 Houck said.

The CORE Act’s impacts on Gunnison County would be to formally designate the boundaries of the Curecanti National Recreation Area, which surrounds Blue Mesa Reservoir and is managed by the National Park Service. It would also withdraw mineral rights from thousands of acres of federal land in the Thompson Divide area of Gunnison County’s northwest corner. Additionally, the bill would create a pilot program to lease and generate electricity from excess methane in existing or abandoned coal mines in the North Fork Valley.

Other parts of the bill would designate wilderness areas in the San Juans and in Eagle and Summit counties. The act would make Camp Hale, the World War II training ground for the 10th Mountain Division, a National Historic Landscape.

Western Slope conservation advocates praised Tuesday’s legislative moves. Matt Reed, public lands director with High Country Conservation Advocates, said in an email that the Thompson Divide withdrawals will reduce climate change emissions and protect wildlife while the Curecanti portion of the bill would safeguard and expand fishing access.

“The CORE Act is the culmination of years of hard work and community support and offers outstanding benefits for Gunnison County public lands and sustainable recreation,” Reed said.

(Sam Liebl can be contacted at 970.641.1414 or editor@gunnisontimes.com)