Vast Public Lands Package Gets Second Chance in Senate

Vast Public Lands Package Gets Second Chance in Senate

Alisa Opar
Published: 03/17/2009

Sequoia National Park/NPS

Last week, we reported that the House fell two votes shy of passing the omnibus public lands, water, and natural resources bill. Last night, the Senate took the first step in a complicated procedure to revive the measure. By a 73-21 vote, the Senate approved attaching the legislation to another bill, H.R. 146, which proposes protecting Revolutionary War battlefields and associated sites. Once the Senate votes on that bill’s final passage, it will be shipped back to the House—and, this time, hopefully get passed.

From The New York Times Greenwire blog:

The plan demonstrates the lengths lawmakers are going to in order to avoid another lengthy delay in the Senate or a potentially difficult vote on GOP amendments in the House.

Because H.R. 146 has already passed the House, the House Rules Committee could approve a closed rule that would block a motion to recommit, the House parliamentarian said last week. That would eliminate the GOP's best procedural chance to stymie the bill. House Democrats could also choose to bring up the bill under suspension again, if they believe they can reach the two-thirds threshold.

The omnibus measure is made up of 160 bills that would add 2 million acres of wilderness in nine states, establish a new national monument and three more national parks, and create thousands of miles of new trails nationwide.

"This is collectively one of the most significant conservation measures considered by this body in the past decade," Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), whose committee put the omnibus together, said on the floor yesterday.

The original omnibus bill failed to pass the House because big gun advocates believed fishing and hunting would be banned in the newly protected areas; other concerns included blocking energy exploration on public lands.

It doesn’t sound like the revised measure, which is expected to ensure lands already open to hunting and fishing won’t be closed off, is going to please everyone. From Greenwire:

But Coburn and House Republicans say the bill goes too far. Coburn noted that several provisions in the omnibus would preclude the opportunity for energy development on public lands, including one bill that would block the development of natural gas and oil in Wyoming. "We're setting a precedent for a very weak foundation for our future energy needs," Coburn said.

It’s a good sound bite, but Coburn’s statement isn’t worth much: As Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), ranking member of the Senate Energy Committee, points out, the land slated to receive wilderness designation is already off limits to oil and gas exploration because federal agencies are managing it for conservation purposes.