By Jason Kosena
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack was in Colorado again this week.
This time, instead of meeting publicly with Eastern Plains farmers and ranchers to discuss the closure of New Frontier Bank, Vilsack discussed the proposed Cap and Trade Bill with representatives of state agricultural interests during a closed-door meeting at the National Western Complex. U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Denver, also attended the Monday meeting.
Afterward, Vilsack and Bennet held a brief press conference with reporters where they made general comments about the proposed law while touting the success of the meeting.
Reporters — who were unable to attend the meeting and thus couldn’t gauge the reaction of the farmers and ranchers to Vilsack’s visit — instead used the opportunity to ask the Obama cabinet member about a national roadless forest plan.
Recently, Gov. Bill Ritter has worked to build consensus on a statewide roadless plan. Vilsack said these efforts may or may not be affected by a federal approach to a rules rewrite.
“You obviously want a national roadless rule that has as much broad-based support as possible,” Vilsack said.
National parks and some other government-owned lands across the country had been under the jurisdiction of a national roadless rule passed under President Bill Clinton in 2001. In 2005, however, President George Bush overturned the Clinton rule and suggested that states adopt their own policies.
Since then, Colorado has developed a plan to protect more than 4.1 million acres. The Colorado plan protects fewer acres than Clinton’s 2001 rules did and allows the building of roads for mining, power utilities, water supply, ski areas, oil and gas extraction and fire breaks. The proposed exceptions also offer more leeway for development than Clinton’s 2001 rules.
Environmental groups have asked Vilsack and the federal government to apply the stricter Clinton standards to override the state’s less stringent rules. Vilsack said he won’t rule that out.
“Obviously, it may very well be that when public comment comes forward, there may well be adjustments and changes to the plan,” Vilsack said. “We are very committed to protecting the roadless areas generally, (and) we think there needs to be a national approach to this.”
After visiting Denver, Vilsack swung through Boulder to attend a national convention on “biochar,” a carbon substance that can be pulled from the air and stored in the ground. The event was intended to demonstrate the Obama administration’s dedication to reducing the nation’s carbon output and promoting options that are safe in terms of climate change.
The Cap and Trade Bill, which narrowly passed the House last month, has been stalled in the Senate for weeks.