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In letter to Biden, Colorado Democrats request executive action related to CORE Act

It is a tacit acknowledgment the bill has no current path through Congress
From left, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Thomas Vilsack, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper answer reporters’ questions Aug. 16 during a visit at Camp Hale near Leadville. (Hugh Carey/The Colorado Sun file)

Colorado’s U.S. senators, along with U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse and Gov. Jared Polis, sent a letter to President Joe Biden on Thursday laying out the specific executive actions they’d like him to take to boost protections for federal public land that would otherwise be shielded under the long-languishing Colorado Outdoor Recreation – or CORE – Act.

Here’s what the Democrats want:

  • An Antiquities Act designation for Camp Hale and the Tenmile Range near Leadville to make them part of a new Camp Hale — Continental Divide National Monument. Camp Hale is where 10th Mountain Division soldiers trained during World War II. It’s no longer an active military base.
  • A mineral withdrawal, which would block oil and gas and mining, for the Thompson Divide under the Federal Lands Policy and Management Act.
  • A mineral withdrawal and wilderness designation for areas of the Grand Mesa Uncompahgre and Gunnison national forests.

The letter comes after U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper joined Neguse and Polis last week at Camp Hale for a roundtable discussion with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. The group discussed pursuing executive action for lands that would otherwise be protected by the CORE Act.

It was a tacit acknowledgment that the bill has no current path through Congress. The legislation has been stalled in the Senate, where Bennet and Hickenlooper have been unable to get the measure past the 60-vote filibuster.

“We will continue our fight to pass the CORE Act to deliver permanent conservation for the areas featured in the legislation but ask for your help in the interim to offer administrative protections modeled after the bill,” the letter says.

Presidents can unilaterally create national monuments, preserving in perpetuity land they find to be scenically or historically significant. Biden has created no national monuments yet in his term but moved to restore land President Donald Trump trimmed from two in southern Utah. Monuments can be controversial, especially in the West, when they impede energy or other types of development or lock up lands that ranchers and farmers counted on using.

“The history of this area, including the role that it played in preparing the 10th Mountain Division for some of the most difficult moments of World War II, makes it the ideal candidate for a national monument designation,” the letter said. “... By taking these steps, you will be making sure that even more of Colorado’s open spaces will be preserved for future generations.”

Remnants of Camp Hale, Aug. 16 near Leadville. Camp Hale was a mountain and winter training center by the U.S. Army. (Hugh Carey/The Colorado Sun file)

Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert, whose western Colorado district would be home to most of the new limits on energy exploration under the proposal, said she didn’t back additional preservation for Camp Hale.

“I don’t support the efforts of extremist environmentalists who are seeking to hijack this historic place to create a new land designation,” Boebert said in a statement.

The Colorado GOP, meanwhile, blasted Bennet, who is running for re-election this year against Republican Joe O’Dea, last week for being unable to advance the CORE Act despite Democrats holding the House, Senate and White House.

“Bennet’s absence of results is because he lacks any real clout or respect,” Colorado GOP Chairwoman Kristi Burton Brown said in a written statement.

Bennet fired back that Republicans in the Senate and their ideological opposition to blocking oil and gas and mining development on federal public lands are the reason the bill is stuck in limbo, nodding to the filibuster and the fact that the legislation needs 60 votes – or the support of 10 Republicans and all Democrats – to pass the chamber.

“It’s an idiotic statement,” Bennet told The Sun. “The CORE Act, unfortunately, has been blocked by Joe O’Dea’s party over and over and over again.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

The Colorado Sun is a reader-supported, nonpartisan news organization dedicated to covering Colorado issues. To learn more, go to coloradosun.com.