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DENVER — Republican U.S. Senate candidate Cory Gardner strongly opposed the two ballot measures, floated and ultimately dropped by Democratic Congressman Jared Polis, to extend greater control of oil and gas drilling to local communities.

But when asked about whether he support legislation backed by his opponent, Democratic Sen. Mark Udall, to protect the Thompson Divide from drilling, Gardner seemed to call for local control — or at least a process that’s led by local officials.

“I think it’s something that should be led at the local level, and not something I want to come in and impose from the top down,” Gardner said earlier this month during an interview with Aspen Public Radio.

The host pressed Gardner twice on his familiarity with the issue on the whole.

“I certainly have been following the Thompson Divide,” Gardner said. “While it’s not in my congressional district, obviously been following the news reports and following the legislative action that’s taking place over it.”

When pressed to take a position on whether or not to allow drilling in the area, Gardner wouldn’t bite.

“That’s something that I look forward to having conversations with the community, the stakeholders.  I know that Senator Bennet has introduced legislation and Congressman [Scott] Tipton has been talking with the local shareholders and stakeholders about the issue and I look forward to having those very same conversations.”

For more than six years, a bipartisan coalition of local governments, hunters, fishermen and environmentalists have been working to prevent the drilling on the Thompson Divide, 220,000 acres of national forest surrounding Aspen in central Colorado that the federal government quietly leased drilling permits for roughly a decade ago.

The Thompson Divide Coalition wants to reimburse the industry for the cost of those permits in an effort to preserve the area; and Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, has sponsored bipartisan legislation to protect the area from future drilling, legislation that Udall signed onto as a co-sponsor.

“The bipartisan, grassroots effort to protect the represents exactly the type of common-sense, balanced approach to energy development that Mark has championed during his time in Congress,” said Udall for Colorado spokeswoman Kristin Lynch. “Working with local stakeholders to protect the Thompson Divide respects the land’s use for other economic activities like hunting, angling, and ranching.

“Congressman Gardner’s comments not only show that he’s been too busy playing politics to give any thought to the issues affecting the West Slope and Roaring Fork Valley, but they also demonstrate his propensity for saying one thing when he’s in one part of the state and another thing when he’s somewhere else.

“Coloradans deserve a Senator who understands all of our needs and will be honest about his views wherever he is.”

Gardner’s campaign shrugged off the idea that the candidate’s stance on Thompson Divide is at odds with his general position against the local control of oil and gas drilling.

“Despite Senator Udall’s attempt to mislead voters, Cory states very clearly that he believes discussions must be ‘led’ at the local level,” said campaign spokesman Alex Siciliano. “He understands that discussions between the Thompson Divide Coalition and energy companies have broken down and commends Congressman Tipton’s efforts to bring stakeholders back to the table.”