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Public Lands Bill Comes Up Short

March 12, 2009 - by Avelino Maestas

Lovely shot of a Navaho Sandstone peak in the Kolob Canyon section of Zion National ParkThe House came two votes shy of passing the Omnibus Public Land Management Act on Wednesday. Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, shepherded the Act through Senate passage back in January, and House approval at one time seemed a foregone conclusion.

The Omnibus contains language from more than 150 other bills previously considered in the 110th Congress. Among the provisions: setting aside 2 million acres in seven states (including portions of Zion National Park in Utah, pictured at left) as wilderness areas; preventing oil and gas development on other tracts of land; and an expansion of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System and other water protection efforts.

There was pretty wide support for the bill — conservationists and environmental groups applauded the wilderness protections, while hunting and angling groups were glad for game animal protections. Detractors included House Minority Leader John Boehner, (R-Ohio), who cited the bill’s cost and restrictions on energy development when criticizing the legislation.

The legislation was brought to the floor under a suspension of House rules, as leaders wanted to prevent amendments from being tacked on to the bill. Some House members wanted to attach a provision allowing firearms to be taken into national parks and wildlife refuges, a ruling former President George W. Bush authorized during his last weeks in office. There is considerable pro-gun support within the Democratic Caucus, and House leaders feared the amendment could pass with Republican help.

The strategy to suspend rules wasn’t without risk, since the bill itself then needed a 2/3 majority to advance. It fell two votes short of mark, and when the legislation comes up for consideration again it will be under the regular process.

Image (used under a Creative Commons license) by Frank K.

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