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http://www.ogj.com:80/display_article/356051/132/ARTCL/none/none/House-narrowly-rejects-massive-public-lands-bill-which-passed-Senate/?dcmp=OGJ.monthly.pulse

House narrowly rejects massive public lands bill which passed Senate

Oil and Gas Journal, posted to KBC 3/13/09

 bill which would have expanded the US wilderness system significantly fell two votes short of passage in the US House on March 11 as Republicans argued it would place too many potential energy resources off-limits.

S. 22, which the US Senate passed on Jan. 15, came to the House floor under a rules suspension which required a two-thirds majority for passage and barred amendments. The bill failed as it received 282 yes votes and 144 no votes. Three Democrats joined Republicans in voting against the bill.

House GOP leaders applauded its defeat. "This vote was a rejection of Democrat leaders' attempt to abuse the suspension process to jam through an over 1,200-page bill costing $10 billion without any chance to amend or improve it," said Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), ranking minority member of the House Natural Resources Committee.

"The bill promotes more runaway Washington spending, blocks American-made energy production, obstructs job creation, restricts access to public land, and weakens border security. Democrat leaders should stop attempting to pass this bill without an open and fair process," he maintained.

"Middle-class families are struggling as costs of living soar and their job security weakens. The legislation Democrats attempted to force through the House today would have made matters even worse by blocking environmentally-safe energy production, increasing gasoline and other energy costs, and costing American jobs we cannot afford to lose," said House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio).

'This bill will pass'

But another House Republican's response was more tempered. John J. Duncan Jr. (Tenn.), who also is on the Natural Resources Committee, said in a floor speech that while the bill fell short of passage, members nevertheless voted overwhelmingly in favor of it. "All this really means is that it will now be taken up under regular order, where it should have been in the first place and which requires only a majority vote. Thus, there is no question this bill will pass the next time it's taken up," he said.

He said that S. 22 was actually a combination of 170 bills which would have created 2 million acres of new wilderness, 330,000 acres of national conservation areas and energy development restrictions on millions of acres. "It would drive up prices and utility bills, and destroy jobs," Duncan said.

Democrats cited provisions ranging from special projects to new scenic and recreation areas which would benefit constituents in their districts. "It will keep America's land whole. The bill contains more than 160 individual measures, including new wilderness designations, new wild and scenic rives, new hiking trails, heritage areas, water projects and historic preservation initiatives," said Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick J. Rahall (D-W.Va.), who led supporters in the debate.

He disagreed with Hastings's assertion that about 100 of the bill's provisions were never approved by the House. "Over 70 bills in this omnibus land package were considered by our committee and passed out of the House. Some 20 or more were reviewed by our committee during the last session when the gentleman from Washington was on a leave of absence from our committee," Rahall said.

Republicans were adamant that Democrats were trying to push the measure through without sufficient consideration. "A 1,294-page bill has been dropped on the floor without regard to the promise that this leadership made to be the most transparent, open and accountable Congress in the history of the United States, spending $10 billion that our children do not have. This is a complete violation of all the promises made by this leadership to the people," said John Culberson (Tex.).

'Never considered'

"Supporters of this 1,200-page, massive omnibus package will tell you that most of the bill it is comprised of are largely noncontroversial. In some cases, they are correct, but in many cases they are not. Nearly 100 of the bills wrapped into this measure were never considered by the full House, let alone by those of us who were freshmen. Absolutely no amendments are allowed to be offered today. As such, I am afforded no opportunity to work with the people of my state to address the specific local concerns regarding the Wyoming portion of this package," said Cynthia Lummis (Wyo.).

Reactions outside Congress to the bill's defeat were mixed. "Today's vote, although a tremendous disappointment to all who value America's public lands, nonetheless demonstrates the broad bipartisan support for wilderness protection. Although it missed a two-thirds majority by two votes, the final vote was lop-sided in support of the legislation," Wilderness Society President William H. Meadows said on March 11. Broad support in the House and Senate demonstrated the legislation's importance, he continued, urging that Congress pass the bill as soon as possible.

The Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States in Denver welcomed the House's action. "Natural gas is an American source of energy. We're almost completely energy independent with it. We also need it for enabling renewables and tackling climate change," said Kathleen Sgamma, the organization's government affairs director.

"When the government makes it more difficult to develop natural gas resources on public lands, it makes it harder for us to address larger goals. S. 22 would have restricted development of American energy on public lands without a deliberative process by Congress. That's why we're pleased the bill did not pass," she told OGJ Washington Pulse by telephone on March 12.

The bill would have locked up millions of acres of public acreage with hundreds of millions of barrels of recoverable oil and trillions of cubic feet of natural gas at the height of a recession and as the United States was trying to improve its energy security, R.J. Smith, a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research, said on March 12. "And yet there were 282 votes for this monstrosity. One of the real dangers of rolling 170-plus individual bills into one 1,294-page, nine-inch thick omnibus [was that] no one ever read it all. Who knew what evils lurked in there?" he said.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com

 
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