U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton (right) talks with Valley county commissioners on Monday afternoon while his field representative, Brenda Felmlee (left) looks on.
Courier photo by Lauren Krizansky
Courier staff writer
ALAMOSA — U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton (R) updated the San Luis Valley County Commissioners Association (SLVCCA) on Monday about his efforts to take care of Colorado at the national level.
The Third Congressional District leader discussed several bills he is associated with including Healthy Forest Management and Wildfire Prevention Act and the Bureau of Reclamation Small Conduit Hydropower Development and Rural Jobs Act.
“It is important in Colorado,” said Tipton about the need to step up wildfire management. “We are feeling the impacts and seeing the devastation in our forests.”
Last month, the legislation that will allow greater state and local involvement in proactive wildfire prevention on federal lands cleared the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation. According to reports, the United States Forest Service (USFS) is facing budget constraints and employee reductions that would make the preventative efforts possible. Tipton challenged the agency on this point and asked why the USFS is spending money on further land acquisition given the budget constraints, instead of prioritizing funds for forest management. The USFS is requesting nearly $60 million in FY14 for the acquisition of new lands.
The Bureau of Reclamation Small Conduit Hydropower Development and Rural Jobs Act amends the Reclamation Project Act of 1939 to authorize the Secretary of the Interior to contract for the development of small conduit hydropower at Bureau facilities. It requires power privilege leases are offered first to an irrigation district or water users association operating or receiving water from the applicable transferred or reserved work.
“We have created opportunities for there to be cost effective and productive clean energy,” Tipton said.
In addition to the bills, Tipton shared his opinions on the USFS’s plan to implement a directive that would require the transfer of privately held water rights to the federal government as a permit condition on National Forest System lands. According to the congressman, “the permit condition circumvents state water law and jeopardizes the economic well-being of communities and businesses, including many farmers and ranchers that rely on privately developed water rights for their livelihood.”
“That is taking,” Tipton explained. “In Colorado, we have something called personal property rights... We can’t allow this.”
He also reported the U.S. government is continuing to work with Mexico to allow potatoes deeper into the country. Today, the country is seeing about $30 million in profit selling within the permitted 16 miles from the border, and it could see that number increase six times if access was granted deeper into the neighboring country.
“This is an ongoing and frustrating issue,” Tipton said.
Those in attendance asked the congressman about several national and state issues including the creation of a comprehensive public data system; Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILT) funding; the Affordable Health Care Act; wilderness studies; future transmission lines; immigration; veterans affairs; social program funding; gun legislation; feral horses; Amendment 64 and foreign aid.
In regards to PILT funding, which brings in hundreds of dollars to several Valley counties, Tipton said he didn’t find the system reliable or, to a degree, sustainable since sequestration came into play.
“I would love to be able to force PILT funding, but the reality is that is a little difficult,” he said about 75 percent proposed cuts coming out of the northeastern states. “The government needs to start prioritizing its resources.”
Mineral County Commissioner Scott Lamb relayed his understanding of PILT funding to the congressman.
“We were told not to count on it,” Lamb said. “We were told it was going away.”
Something that is not going away, Tipton confirmed, is the unfunded Affordable Healthcare Act mandate that he does not support.
“I am talking to doctors that are saying they are going to quit,” he said about the act that is already impacting Valley counties’ human resources departments. “...Now there are tax implications coming into play that are catching America’s attention.”
He added, “I am all about affordability. I am very concerned, in our part of the world, about accessibility.”
Conejos County Commissioner John Sandoval asked Tipton about incomplete wilderness studies constraining use of public lands like Saddleback and Pinion Hills, which only an act of congress can repeal.
“It’s taking more and more lands,” Sandoval said. “We were using these lands... Now people are going elsewhere and not spending their money on local tourism.”
Alamosa County Commissioner Marianne Dunne asked Tipton his thoughts on immigration, particularly in regard to the humanity associated with separating families.
“I don’t think the problem is with the borders, but with the folks living in the United States that have lived here for a long time,” Dunne said. “It (deportation) splits up families and creates destabilization... It makes people dependent when before they were independent.”
Tipton explained several options the federal government is considering like the proposed “Red Card,” which would document guest workers, and commented on the importance of immigrants in agriculture.
“There is work not filled by Americans,” he said about making sure legal immigrants are recognized when crossing a secure border. “These are issues we will have to work through. We are a compassionate and caring country.”
On the topic of guns, the congressman said the federal government must take into consideration mental health of arms owners, pleased the latest bill failed to make it out of the Senate.
“The thing is if the bill went through, it wouldn’t have stopped any of the tragedies,” Tipton said. “Mental health triggers and things like violent video games are being ignored.”
He also said the U.S. needs to stop providing other countries like Egypt with aid that could make a difference domestically.
“They (Egypt) aren’t particularly friendly to us,” Tipton said. “They are headed by the Islamic Brotherhood.”