Jim Ramey announced last week that he is stepping down after three and a half years as executive director of Citizens for a Healthy Community. Ramey is heading to The Wilderness Society's Denver office to work on energy policy after being recommended for the job.
"I didn't even apply," said Ramey, but the timing was right, as he and his wife had been discussing making a change.
Ramey said his time at CHC helped "immensely" in preparing for his new journey. His background in energy policy was a good fit of the non-profit, formed in 2009 to help protect the Delta County region from irresponsible oil and gas development. He arrived in early 2012 as its first full-time director, and in the midst of the proposed gas lease sale by the Bureau of Land Management of 22 parcels on 30,000 acres in the North Fork area.
Under his leadership, CHC partnered with other organizations and spurred grassroots efforts that resulted in the withdrawal of all 22 parcels from possible sale after the BLM received roughly 3,000 public comments.
"Things were crazy. That's an understatement probably," said Ramey. He said he didn't really have a vision or a plan coming in. "It was more of a clean slate and looking at how to progress."
That year, CHC was named co-Nonprofit Organization of the Year by the Paonia Chamber of Commerce
In 2013, CHC, with help from the Western Environmental Law Center, won a federal Freedom of Information Act lawsuit that reversed the BLM's policy of not publishing the identities of entities nominated for minerals leasing on public lands after CHC was denied access to the names of the corporations nominated for the North Fork area leases.
The organization also led efforts to create and submit to the BLM the North Fork Alternative Plan that focuses on managing oil and gas development in local watersheds.
Last February, CHC united the community again to battle a proposal for 146 gas wells and associated development on more than 19,000 acres of federal and private lands northeast of Paonia in the BLM Bull Mountain Unit. The BLM accepted public comment on the draft Environmental Impact Statement earlier this year. The first public meeting on the proposal drew about 250 citizens, with 28 individuals participating in the public comment segment. "Everyone did a great job articulating their points," said Ramey.
A final EIS and decision by the BLM are pending.
Ramey said he lost a lot of sleep over the proposal, and "gained a few gray years, but well worth it. It's important. It's really gratifying work."
Ramey rattles off a long list of chemicals and compounds associated with the oil and gas industry and says he doesn't think hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, can ever be done without risk to the environment, wildlife and humans. He is proud to have worked with the late Theo Colborn and staff at The Endocrine Exchange on air quality assessment studies related to natural gas operations. He worked on fundraising coordinated volunteers, and helped with technical aspects of the project including program design and data interpretation.
The results of those studies were presented by TEDX at a forum hosted by CHC in April, said Ramey. A final report, which he continues to work on, is due in the near future.
Ramey said it's good to know that the organization has "effectively stopped new leasing over the last few years. It's not the end game, but it's a huge positive thing."
Ramey called his job change "an exciting new opportunity." He describes TWS as doing "great work. They have an amazing organizational culture, they have fantastic people. They take a realistic, practical approach to these difficult issues, like energy." TWS recognizes that drilling isn't going to stop tomorrow, and works "to make sure that it doesn't happen in irresponsible places, and where it does happen it happens in more of a responsible way as possible."
Ramey gave CHC a month's notice and will stay until mid-November to help with the transition to new leadership. The board of directors is now tasked with finding a suitable replacement.
"That's a tall order," said board chair Ellie Goldstein. "Jim has so many skills and he's a bank of information. If he can't answer every question that the board or members throw at him, he'll get the answer within 24 hours."
"I do think it's an opportunity to find the right person to help CHC through the next steps and in the years to come," said Ramey, who urges the board to take a "don't worry" view of the task and the future of the organization. "It's an amazing community, it's a great organization, it's a fantastic opportunity for someone to come and ...... dive in face first."
Among the challenges CHC continues to face are the more than 80,000 acres of existing leases on public and private lands now at various stages of the review process and representing hundreds of new gas wells. "Those are tough to take on," said Ramey. Not much can be done about leases on private lands. "Once the leases are issued it's really difficult to stop it entirely." But leases on public lands offer different opportunities. "The agencies do read the comments, and sometimes they do listen," said Ramey.
Another concern is the new draft oil & gas rules recently released by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (see Oct. 14 DCI story "Draft oil/gas rules frustrate citizen groups") and a federal proposal for 25 new gas wells west of the Bull Mountain Unit, including 16 wells on public lands in the Gunnison National Forest. The public comment period for the proposal ended Oct. 23.
The proposed Thompson Divide lease swap that would exchange leases in the Roaring Fork Valley area for leases in Delta, Gunnison, Mesa and Rio Blanco counties would require federal legislation, which hasn't yet been introduced, and congressional approval. "So, the idea is not dead," said Ramey, "but it's not really on the front burner anymore."
Ramey, who commutes from Montrose, said he will miss his friends, and all of the people, the most. "Wonderful memories over the last few years from the North Fork." He's grateful, as a Midwesterner, to be staying in Colorado and near the mountains and access to skiing, hiking and backpacking.
"I will say I am really proud of the things that I was able to contribute, the accomplishments over the past few years," said Ramey.