Posted by: greeningwashington | March 24, 2009

Western Expansion

After a rocky road in Congress, the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act, which was introduced by New Mexico Senator, Jeff Bingaman, was passed by the Senate on March 19, on a vote of 77-20. The House is likely to vote on the measure later this week, which is expected to pass with bipartisan support. If passed, it would create the largest expansion of the Wilderness Preservation System in 15 years.


The bill, which is really a collection of 160 public lands, water, and resources bills, would create 2 million new acres of wilderness in nine states— mostly in the West.


The bill faced unexpected opposition when it was defeated two weeks ago in the Senate as it fell two votes short. It has now garnered strong support in both houses of Congress.


According to the Wilderness Society, the bill would:


  • Designate more than 2 million acres of wilderness in California, Oregon, Idaho, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Michigan, Virginia, and West Virginia;


  • Codify the National Landscape Conservation System, which currently protects 26 million acres of natural treasures managed by the Bureau of Land Management, including such American icons as the California coastline, and the Grand Canyon-Parashant and Sonoran Desert national monuments;


  • Protect 1.2 million acres of the scenic Wyoming Range in western Wyoming from oil and gas development;


  • Protect free-flowing rivers in California, Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Arizona, Utah, and Massachusetts as Wild and Scenic Rivers; and


  • Designate numerous new National Scenic Trails, Natural Historic Sites, and, National Heritage Areas across the United States.  


The New York Times reported that Paul Spitler, of the Wilderness Society, called the legislation “the most important conservation measure in a decade.”  


Not surprisingly, the omnibus bill also includes a provision that would result in the removal of 200 acres of wilderness in Alaska to build roads. Can’t win them all.


Beyond bipartisan support on the Hill, the formulation of the bill has reunited that fragile relationship between recreationists and preservationists.


Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman, who introduced the bill, told Politico, “This bill was never the brainchild of any national organization. It’s more a grass-roots aggregation of bills that represent a lot of years of work in individual states. Many of the most pro-environment provisions are sponsored by Republicans.”


The president is expected to sign the bill into law next week.


I will be watching for a clash between environmentalists looking to preserve wilderness and those that want expanded wind and solar energy development on federal lands.


Until next time.



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