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Land Politics Report 8/6/07: The Rising Union-Sportsmen-Conservationist Coalition

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With so much going on in Land Politics, I've decided to start filing semi-regular reports on the issue like I do on the trade issue, since (like the trade issue) few - if any - cover it in a comprehensive way. Land Politics, as I have written many times before, has the potential to break apart the traditional Republican coalition all over America - but only if Democrats seize the opportunity. As you can see from today's report, all sorts of new progressive coalitions are being forged between unions, sportsmen and conservationists. At the same time, Land Politics is forcing Republicans to decide whether to side with their oil and gas industry donors, or with traditionally conservative voters who put them into office. Though these issues may seem far under the radar of the headline-grabbing topics of celebrity- and Washington-obsessed national news, they are hugely important in the day-to-day lives of millions of Americans. The party that gets out in front of these issues is the party that is going to solidify a number of so-called "swing" states for the long-haul.

NATIONAL

UNION-SPORTSMEN ALLIANCE LAUNCHED: The AFL-CIO is now promoting a new organization known as the Union Sportsmen's Alliance backed by 21 unions and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP). The goal of the new group is "to boost the TRCP's long-standing dedication to guaranteeing access for hunters and anglers, conserving fish and wildlife habitat and increasing funding for conservation."

SPORTSMEN-CONSERVATION COALITION BACKS NEW MINING LAW: The Grand Junction Sentinel reports that "a coalition of sportsmen's groups -- including the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, Trout Unlimited and the National Wildlife Federation -- last week announced they are supporting legislation in Congress to change [an] 1872 mining law...to comply with modern environmental rules, give federal officials more authority to reject mining applications and impose an 8 percent royalty on mining operations to fund mine clean up."

COLORADO

DEMS STALL WHITE HOUSE PUSH TO DRILL ON ROAN PLATEAU: The Associated Press reports that "energy companies would be barred from tapping natural gas on federal land atop Colorado's scenic Roan Plateau under an energy bill that passed the House" last week. The provision was inserted by Colorado Democratic Reps. Mark Udall and John Salazar. In the event that Udall-Salazar amendment does not become law, the Denver Post reports that Bush Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne "has agreed to give state officials more time to comment on the Bureau of Land Management's plan to allow drilling on Colorado's Roan Plateau." The Bush administration only agreed to this delay after Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar (D) put a hold on BLM Director nominee James Caswell. Meanwhile, the Rocky Mountain News reports that Republican Secretary of State Mike Coffman "abruptly backed away today from plans to chair a lobbying group that will campaign for drilling on the Roan Plateau." Coffman had agreed to become chairman of the pro-drilling group but pulled out 45 minutes after being questioned about it by the Rocky Mountain News. He nonetheless lashed out with typical Fox News-style talking points, saying, "Senator (Ken) Salazar, Governor (Bill) Ritter and others feel a need to throw a bone to radical environmentalists, and Roan Plateau is that bone."

QUESTIONS ARISE ABOUT LOCAL CONTROL OVER DRILLING REGULATION: The Grand Junction Sentinel reports that after the Grand Junction City Council approved stringent new rules on energy development, proponents of better regulation are working to have those rules adopted throughout Mesa County. However, serious "local control" questions remain "about how much power Mesa County would have if it placed regulations on the industry that are stricter than those prescribed by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission." That said, the Sentinel's editorial board has previously noted that because of a recent Colorado Supreme Court ruling, "Mesa County has substantially greater authority over oil and gas drilling within its borders than it did just a few months ago." Specifically, the court upheld counties' right to "stablish requirements that exceeded state standards -- such as the minimum distance a drill rig must be from a home." This is precisely what proponents for better regulation want Mesa County to enact: Regulations to "stipulate that natural gas wells be placed at least 1,000 feet from homes and require energy companies to obtain county permits before drilling." Not surprisingly, the efforts got only "a lukewarm reception" from Mesa County's Republican-dominated county commission.

ANOTHER OIL COMPANY PICKS UP AND LEAVES ITS MESS BEHIND: The Rocky Mountain News reports that "A Texas company drilling for natural gas near an area where an underground nuclear test took place in 1969 has sold its operations, leaving a string of environmental violations." Presco Inc. "sold all its property and gas wells near the Project Rulison site in Garfield County to Noble Energy Production Inc. on May 8" - the same day "the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission cited the company for eight violations." Back in 2005, the Denver Post reported that Republicans in the Colorado legislature killed an "oil-and-gas bill that could have forced companies to pay more for harming private property where they drill."

MONTANA

TESTER SLAMS OUT-OF-STATE 'TROPHY PROPERTY' BINGE: In an op-ed for the Missoulian, freshman U.S. Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) says he has "a problem with folks from other places buying up agricultural land, fencing it off and locking it up forever." He notes that right now, "out-of-state developers are buying up large ranches across our state with plans to subdivide them and sell lots as 'trophy properties.'" He says the land then becomes "available only to an exclusive club of elite and blocked to the workaday Montanan who pays his dues to the state and understands the Western value of sharing the landscape with fellow Montanans...What used to be traditional hunting and fishing grounds for generations are fast becoming off limits for ordinary Montanans looking to put some meat and fish on the table."

TEXAS

LAND TAX EXEMPTION BEING ABUSED BY MULTINATIONAL CORPORATIONS: The Wall Street Journal publishes an expose on how Texas tax exemption laws originally geared to help farmers is now being exploited by multinational corporations not even in the agriculture industry. "The state's agricultural exemption, which dates back to 1966, was intended to benefit full-time farmers and ranchers," the Journal reports. "But as voter referendums have loosened the exemption's requirements over the years -- over the objections of municipal and school-district officials who have lost revenue -- it has been used by dozens of corporations that stick a few cows or birdhouses around their offices." Today, companies like Dell simply put a few cows on their giant corporate campuses, and get to avoid tens of thousands of dollars in taxes.

WYOMING

GOV CRITICIZES NEW SENATOR ON LAND/WATER ISSUES: The Associated Press reports that Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal (D) says newly appointed Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso (R) "has been tepid so far in his support of two landmark pieces of environmental legislation that Sen. Craig Thomas was pushing before his death." Shortly before his death, Thomas had introduced legislation to protect more than 400 miles of the Snake River and its headwaters under the federal Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. Thomas had also said he intended to introduce legislation to prevent further energy development in the Wyoming Range. Since succeeding Thomas, however, Barrasso has been noncommittal on whether he will continue to carry Thomas' environmental measures in the Senate.

Cross-posted from Working Assets