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U.S. House passes bill to protect 400,000 Colorado acres

CORE Act still faces an uphill road in the Senate and White House opposition

A hiker makes his way through an area that provides views of Camp Hale and the Gore Range.
A hiker makes his way through an area that provides views of Camp Hale and the Gore Range.

The U.S. House voted Thursday to approve the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act, a large public lands bill that protects 400,000 acres in Colorado from further development.

The House voted 227-182 on the bill, sending it to the Senate. Within Colorado’s delegation, all Democrats voted in favor and all Republicans opposed the legislation, known as the CORE Act.

The bill would preserve Continental Divide land in the White River National Forest, designate more of the San Juan Mountains as wilderness, and safeguard about 200,000 acres in the Thompson Divide from oil and gas leases, the most controversial provision in the bill.

It would also create the nation’s first national historic landscape at Camp Hale, where the Army’s 10th Mountain Division trained in preparation for World War II. It would set aside 28,728 acres at the former camp, which is in Eagle County.

The CORE Act was debated by five members of the Colorado congressional delegation on the House floor Wednesday night. Democrats were led by Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Lafayette, and Republicans by Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez.

“It’s important we do not discount the 3rd District voices who feel like they were excluded or their concerns were disregarded,” Tipton said, referring to his western Colorado congressional district. “I’ve heard from numerous county commissioners who have not been involved in the legislative process for the CORE Act.”

“My colleagues can say as often as they would like that there are local voices missing or ignored, but that does not make it true,” Neguse said a short time later. “Because we know that the communities impacted by this bill support it. That is a fact. There can be no dispute about that.”

While Thursday’s passage in the House is an accomplishment for Neguse and Sen. Michael Bennet, a Denver Democrat who has led efforts in the Senate, it’s unclear if the CORE Act can go any farther during this session of Congress. It lacks Republican support in the Senate and White House.

“There’s no reason this shouldn’t have a hearing in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee,” Bennet said Thursday, adding that he has reached out to the committee’s chairwoman and ranking member. As for the White House, he said, “I hope President Trump will listen to (local) voices.”

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