Tipton bill to protect landowners near federal property wins first approval

U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, right, is seen with U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado Springs. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS • U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton of Cortez stopped by the Colorado Water Congress conference on Thursday to discuss water challenges and his efforts to protect water rights in Colorado.

But before he spoke to the congress, Tipton sat down with Colorado Politics for a one-on-one interview on the upcoming election, the move by the federal Bureau of Land Management to Colorado and whether he would campaign with President Donald Trump, were the president to come to the 3rd Congressional District to assist with Tipton’s 2020 re-election bid (he would).

The move by the BLM to Grand Junction, announced in July by Colorado’s junior U.S. senator, Cory Gardner, means that up to 27 high-level employees will relocate, although most of the other employees -- up to about 85 total -- will move to Lakewood or to other Western states.

Tipton dismissed reports that House Democrats may try to block the move through the Department of Interior’s annual budget. The department already has the authority to make the move, he told Colorado Politics. He noted that one BLM manager had said he’d never seen sagebrush. This will result in “closer integration” between the agency and the people it serves in the Western United States, Tipton added.

Tipton also touched on his legislative priorities once Congress’s summer recess comes to an end after Labor Day. He’s pushing a fourth effort on the Water Rights Protection Act, a bill that cleared the House in the last Congress with bipartisan support, but has struggled to gain that same support from Democrats in this session. The measure is endorsed by the Colorado Water Congress.

The act initially surfaced after the U.S. Forest Service in 2012 attempted to acquire water rights from Colorado ski resorts as a condition of renewing leases on federal lands. That led to a court fight that the agency lost, and eventually the agency backed off of that effort.

Tipton’s bill would require the federal government to defer to states on the issue of water rights.

Tipton is also part of a bipartisan coalition pushing for renewable energy incentives for public lands that would provide royalties to local communities.

Nationally, Democrats are already targeting Tipton as a top prospect for gaining another House seat in Colorado, following the successful race by Democrat and now U.S. Rep. Jason Crow of Aurora, who defeated long-time Republican congressman Mike Coffman last November.

Three Democrats have already filed to run against him: former state Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush of Steamboat Springs, who lost to Tipton last November by 8 percentage points, his closest win to date; Root Rutledge of Durango; and state Rep. Donald Valdez of La Jara. Mitsch Bush has already raised more than $138,000 for the rematch, but Tipton was sitting on a campaign account with more than $382,000 as of the end of June.

Tipton said he has been a constant target for Democrats and intends to continue fighting for farmers, ranchers and other small business interests.

He also touched on federal immigration efforts, noting that companies in his district are hurting for workers. Low unemployment is a good situation, he said, because it means wages are on the rise. That said, he backs the president’s proposals on the Deferred Act for Childhood Arrivals, something he said Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi of California rejected.

The immigration problems is “something we can fix,” Tipton said. “We need to secure the border.”

He did, however, acknowledge that improvements should be made to the worker immigration visa program, and that resorts, construction and agriculture in the district need help.

“More jobs are available than there are people to fill them,” he said, adding that fixing immigration will help that workforce.

Tipton told Colorado Politics he signed the petition to allow voters to weigh in on the 2019 measure on the national popular vote.

“We cannot surrender our votes” to larger states like New York and California, he explained. If national popular vote legislation is enacted, Colorado would be ignored in favor of those larger states and larger voter populations. “Our voice has a right to be heard.”

He hasn’t, however, signed the petition to recall Gov. Jared Polis, adding that he hasn’t seen it yet. He agrees with the petition’s backers that Democrats in the general assembly and the governor “overreached” in the 2019 session, but added he does not believe the recall effort will be successful.

As to the president: Tipton said whether Trump campaigns in Colorado in the next 15 months is a decision to be made by the administration, but he would appear with him should Trump come to Colorado.

Tipton told the water congress how pleased he was to see the reservoirs in the district full.

The 3rd Congressional District cannot continue to shoulder the burden for Colorado’s water future, he said, adding that “urban Colorado” needs to do its part. He noted that during one of the droughts, people on the Western Slope were advised to shorten showers, while at the same time water was running down the gutters in Denver.

“We have to stand up for our water interests” with shared responsibility, and to make sure that farmers and ranchers have enough water for their operations and for businesses to grow.

He blasted Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser for a recent decision to withdraw the state from a lawsuit that challenged the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to withdraw the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule.

Tipton said that WOTUS would give the federal government control over Colorado water and make dirt a pollutant, and that gullywashers would be managed by the feds.

“When it comes to state water law, we need to stand up for that, for the priority-based system” and protect water as a private property right, he added.

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