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bill to get new life in Senate
1/9/09 From Colby Marshall, Oregon Congressman Greg Walden's office:
Hello everyone – some of you have emailed and asked about the status of a large omnibus public lands bill being considered by the Senate. According to an Energy & Environment Daily article today (posted below) it may be considered this week. In an article in November, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev) vowed the bill will be the “first or second" action taken by the new Congress and he seems to be making good on that promise. Several bills effecting Oregon are included in this package (bill attached):
Omnibus bill to get new life in Senate
Noelle Straub and Eric Bontrager, E&E reporters
The Senate may act as soon as this week on an omnibus package of more than 150 public lands, water and resources bills that slipped from the agenda late last year.
After one senator's delaying tactics proved too high an obstacle to move the bill last session, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) promised to bring up the package as the "first or second" action taken by the new Congress.
Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.), who sits on the Energy and Natural Resources panel and has been nominated for Interior secretary, yesterday said the omnibus is among the measures Reid would like to finish before the inauguration. "I think we're going to work on it this week," he said. "If we are able to get that done, we'll get it done now; if not, we'll come back and get it done after [Jan. 20]," Salazar added.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the new top Republican on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said panel members are working to fulfill Reid's pledge to move the omnibus quickly in the new Congress. But the schedule remains unclear, she added.
"We're trying to facilitate that," Murkowski said. "I think we also recognize that it's a large package and that there were some issues with it before that complicated its passage. So we're trying to figure out how we can do that."
The bill was set to come up during a lame-duck session in November, but Reid opted instead to hold the package until the 111th Congress. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) threatened to filibuster the package if it came to the floor, saying the legislation would increase government spending and curtail energy development.
Coburn yesterday blasted the Senate leadership for moving forward with the package, saying it "represents some of the worst aspects of congressional incompetence and parochialism."
"The decision by Senate leaders to kick off the new Congress with an earmark-laden omnibus lands bill makes a mockery of voters' hopes for change," Coburn said in a statement. "Instead, the Senate is set to resume business as usual."
The senator argued that the Senate should focus first on the economic stimulus package, in particular identifying offsets to pay for it, but added he would be happy for time before the full Senate to debate the package.
Salazar said there are enough votes to overcome Coburn's opposition. "There will be a bipartisan coalition that will make it happen," Salazar said.
Reid has said the bill will be considered under "Rule 14," meaning it will be immediately placed on the Senate calendar and can be brought to the floor at any time without the need to go through the committee process.
The House approved all of the bills in the omnibus measure last session. House Natural Resources Chairman Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) has said the chamber will take them up again this year, perhaps packaging them in another omnibus "right off the bat."
But Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) said lawmakers should put together a new package and pass it through committee rather than debate legislation carried over from the previous Congress. He said the current Congress should have the chance to assess the proposals individually.
"Everything should start from scratch in a new Congress," said Bishop, the ranking member of the Parks Subcommittee.
Included in the omnibus are 15 different proposals that would designate nearly 2 million acres of public lands as wilderness in California, Colorado, Idaho, Michigan, New Mexico, Oregon, Virginia and West Virginia.
The bill also contains dozens of proposals authorizing new studies for national park units, heritage areas and wild and scenic rivers. While supportive of the designations, the Bush administration has long held that Congress should hold off on new studies until the Interior Department completes its backlog of studies already authorized.
One of the most contentious provisions of the bill would codify the 26-million-acre National Landscape Conservation System. Created by the Clinton administration as part of the Interior Department, the NLCS grants protections to ecologically and historically valuable lands like the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah and the Headwaters Forest Reserve in California.
The NLCS is now the subject of an Interior inspector general investigation into possible illegal coordination between lobbyists for environmental groups and federal officials of the system. Bishop, whose request for NLCS documents helped launch the investigation, said his office has received no updates on the IG's work. Calls to the IG were not returned by deadline.
Another controversial measures in the package would allow construction of a road through Alaska's Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. The bill would authorize a land swap that would permit a road connecting the villages of King Cove and Cold Bay in exchange for additional wilderness for the refuge.
<<omnibus public lands bill.pdf>>
Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM Pacific
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