How national park status may threaten oil and gas and other commercial development in western Colorado
Promises that there will be no attempts to adjust the boundaries of the existing Colorado National Monument or link it with other protected areas, such as the McInnis National Conservation Area, are contradicted by the strategic goals of the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), an NGO which lobbies for legislation and rules related to national parks and other protected areas. The NPCA is now pushing for “Landscape-level Conservation” which implies that indefinite, unlimited expansion of national parks is required for present and future preservation. Their goals include:
- To establish new national parks and expand existing parks
- Have parks function as habitat and heritage hubs within larger, landscape-level conservation efforts
- Stop development and extraction on adjacent lands that may “negatively impact the natural resources in national parks.”
- Regulate groundwater extraction, “even if done miles away” from a national park.
Haze Rules and “Class I Area” National Parks:
The EPA Haze Rule governs “visibility” in America’s “Class I” areas which consist of national parks and wilderness areas. The stated goal of the Haze Rule is to achieve “natural background” (ie., no manmade visibility impairment) by 2064. Manmade haze can come from wood-burning fireplaces, seasonal field burning, airborne dust stirred up by human activity, vehicle emissions, or industrial output, among other things. Class 1 Area Haze Rules can affect existing and future energy development and human activity for hundreds of miles outside of a Class I Area.
Existing power plants targeted by Class I Area Haze Rules include:
- The PMN Generating Station in Northern New Mexico
- The Navajo Power Plant in Page, Arizona,
Under Federal Haze Rules the EPA would regulate regional ‘particulate matter’ or ‘particle pollution’ (PM) in and near Class I Areas. PM is defined by the EPA as “a complex mixture of extremely small particles and liquid droplets. Particle pollution is made up of a number of components, including acids (such as nitrates and sulfates), organic chemicals, metals, and soil or dust particles.”
Distant scenes viewed from within the boundaries of a national park are designated “viewsheds.” The EPA, NPCA, and National Park Service (NPS) are using “viewsheds” to limit human activities that may have a negative “visual impact on the national park visitor experience.” Things most targeted according to an 2013 report by the NPCA are:
- Energy development-related heavy equipment and traffic
- Towers and other tall structures that can be seen from inside parks
- Nighttime lighting from rigs, cell towers, buildings and traffic
- Rigs, roads, pipelines, and well heads
- Haze produced by energy extraction operations and other human activities
- The NPCA protested a 2012 proposal for drilling near Dinosaur National Park asserting that “it will come at the peril of the night skies in the area, create air pollution concerns and be contrary to the visitor experience at the park…”
- Viewshed visual impacts could be defined to include seasonal burning by agricultural operations, wood smoke from home fireplaces, charcoal grills, residential leaf and weed burning, livestock pens, commercial and residential lighting, lights from nighttime sports venues, commercial signage, commercial traffic, residential traffic, industrial parks, construction sites, excavations, landfills, rock quarries, and countless other scenes that might be considered “unsightly.”
Colorado is protest central when it comes to opposition to energy development. Development of Colorado’s vast energy reserves in the regions of Mesa Verde NP and Dinosaur NP has been delayed or halted around these protected areas. The existence of a national park in the midst of commercial, residential, and industrial, and agricultural development in Mesa County could open the door to endless protests and injunctions against what is already an over-regulated industries. The Denver Post graphic below shows how protests against energy development on public lands in Colorado are the rule, not the exception.
- In 2012 the National Parks Conservation Association protested a BLM proposal to lease land outside the boundaries of Dinosaur National Park for commercial drilling.
- In 2013 National Park Service joined forces with the NPCA to oppose a BLM proposal to lease remote areas outside of Mesa Verde National Park for exploration and drilling.
The National Parks Conservation Association will use the leverage of national park status to exert influence on private property and public lands which lie outside national park boundaries.
- In 2012 NPCAlaunched their “Landscape Conservation Program.” In the words of NPCA their purpose is to, “harness the iconic power of national parks, their broad public and political support, and their capacity to engage and educate, to protect and improve the health of the land and waterscapes within which national parks reside.”
- They plan on, “ developing and implementing solutions that use national parks for broader conservation, whether as ‘anchor tenants’ of larger ecosystems, connective pathways linking wildlife habitat, economic drivers of local communities, or catalysts for resource protection.”
CNM abuts residential subdivisions, some of which are under construction, and the towns of Fruita, Grand Junction, and Palisade, which comprise a dramatic “cityscape” at night, meeting viewshed criteria is an impossibility. If national park status is realized, government agencies may attempt to use Viewsheds and Haze Rules to regulate nearby human activity. Oil and gas development will be the first targets.
Buffer Zones and The Antiquities Act:
The Antiquities Act, passed by Theodore Roosevelt in 1906, gives the president executive power to restrict the use of public land managed by the Federal Government. The Antiquities Act has been used hundreds of times since its inception, ordinarily to make a protected area into a national monument or national park. The redesignation of the CNM to that of Rim Rock Canyons National Park could lead the National Parks Service (NPS) to use the Antiquities Act to make McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area a buffer zone by designating it as a national monument, thereby closing it to many of its multiple uses people now enjoy.