Tooker: Why am I opposed to the 400,000-acre proposed Dolores River National Monument?

By Aimee Tooker | Guest Commentary, Rocky Mountain Voice

The west end of Montrose County is one of four Tier One coal-affected communities in Colorado. The effect of the closure of Western Fuels coal mine in 2018 and Tri-State Generation and Transmission’s coal plant in 2019 (two years ahead of schedule) had an obvious detrimental effect on our local businesses.

Nucla-Naturita Fire Department suffered a 65% local property tax loss. The $550,000 we received from Tri-State generation has been spent methodically and gratefully. Since 2014 the west end has developed and has been implementing our economic diversification plans along with our recent coal-affected community transition plans.

The proposed Dolores River National Monument will stonewall all economic processes that our community has worked toward. We deserve the opportunity to see those locally-led and locally-developed processes through. We do not want to be force-fed a single recreation industry, nor do we want to be wiped off the map like other national monument communities.

The Dolores River area already has layers and layers of protection, so to say it is unprotected is not even remotely accurate. The NGO’s idea of protection is no human activity on the land at all, which is against the multi-use mandates of the Bureau of Land Management, not to mention the “takings” of our private property rights, placing access to federal lands and ultimate freedoms at risk. 

The west end lies in the middle of the Uravan Mineral Belt (uranium and vanadium found in the same ore) and the Department of Energy’s uranium reserve and uranium lease tracts. The Uravan Mineral Belt also contains critical minerals including vanadium, copper, among many others.  We wish to provide excellent jobs and quality of life for workers and to contribute to energy independence and ultimately national security for our nation. Technological advances and updated local, state and federal regulations will ensure protection for workers and the environment. Community support of the mining, oil and gas industry is probably why we are not being given sufficient consideration to our monumental concerns. With the growing positive market conditions, along with world and federal support of nuclear power and Colorado’s support of Advanced Energy Solutions, the west end and Gateway community is optimistic about finally being able to again use our mineral assets.

  • Gov. Polis signed House Bill 19-1314, “Concerning a Just Transition from Coal-based electrical energy.” The Colorado General Assembly made a “moral commitment to assist the workers and communities that have powered Colorado for generations” by supporting a “just and inclusive transition” away from coal.  
  • The Colorado Just Transition Action Plan was established in 2020 to “empower communities with resources to drive their own economic transitions. Gov. Polis has directed state agencies to make assisting coal transition communities a priority.
  • Advanced Energy Solutions H.B. 23-1247 was approved by the State of Colorado and has been approved by the Colorado Just Transition Advisory Committee to be included on the updated version of Community Strategies of the Colorado Just Transition Action Plan.

Sen. Bennet and Sen. Hickenlooper represent the State of Colorado, not the non-governmental organizations who are pushing this monument. The State of Colorado and Gov. Polis should honor the “moral commitment” made to the West End of Montrose County and honor the charge of the Colorado Office of Just Transition’s  Action Plan, stand up and oppose this 400,000 acre proposed Dolores River National Monument so that the West End of Montrose County  can continue to drive our own economy just like the State of Colorado promised we could. If they don’t stand up for us, especially when push comes to shove, then their promises aren’t worth the paper it’s written on.

Editor’s note: Opinions expressed in commentary pieces are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the management of the Rocky Mountain Voice, but even so we support the constitutional right of the author to express those opinions.