Press Releases

U.S. House of Representatives Fails to Pass Omnibus Land Management Act

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Washington, March 11, 2009 | comments
WASHINGTON, DC – Today, the U.S. House of Representatives failed to pass the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 (S. 22) by a required two-thirds majority.

U.S. Congressman Phil Roe, M.D. (TN-1) supports the concept of preserving wilderness and ensuring future generations will be able to enjoy the natural splendor of these areas; however, he was not able to support this omnibus bill for many reasons. This super-sized bill of over 1200 pages is an amalgamation of more than 160 separate and unrelated pieces of legislation – many of which were never considered in the House.

For one thing, the legislation would prevent any natural gas and oil in the future, which will force us to import more energy from overseas. Congressman Roe believes we should reserve the right to extract oil and natural gas in the future because once we designate these lands as wilderness, it will be very difficult to ever roll back these protections.

Additionally, the Senate deleted or modified several important provisions on public safety, border security and other issues that are overwhelming supported by the American people. The House is being forced to take up this far-reaching, controversial measure on suspension – devoid of input with no opportunity to insist on House provisions or modify Senate provisions. While this bill includes many worthwhile provisions, Roe opposed S. 22.

“I support land conservation and want to see this bill improved so I can support it,” said Roe. “For example, the Virginia Railway Extension Act and the Trail of Tears are both worthy projects that I would support if considered on their own merits. Unfortunately, there were many troubling bills tacked on to this omnibus that could never stand on their own – including a bill where $1.1 billion taxpayer dollars would go to California in an attempt to bring back a minimum of 500 salmon to the area.

“This bill also enacts tighter restrictions on federal lands, which concerns me that designating hundreds of thousands of acres as new wilderness land could impede American energy resource exploration and development in the future and potentially infringe on private property use within the designation.”

One bill included that has not been debated on its own allows special interests in California to “settle” their two-decade-old lawsuit against the federal government (specifically, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation) to restore the salmon population to the historical outlines of San Joaquin River, which has been dry for seventy-five years (thanks in part to a dam California voters approved in 1933. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that implementing a similar House bill could cost federal taxpayers $500 million (and California taxpayers another $250 million). Other parties have estimated the real governmental cost of the agreement to be up to $1.1 billion. While there may be merits to such a bill, they were unable to be considered because so little time was devoted to debate on the measure.

Signed into law in 1964, the Wilderness Act defined federal "wilderness" as "an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain." As the definition would suggest, federal wilderness areas are designated to preserve and protect federal land that has been determined to be especially pristine and untouched by human development. As such, use of National Wilderness land is extremely limited. Wilderness land is generally accessible to the public for recreational activities such as camping, hunting, hiking, and fishing. However the use of any mechanized vehicles is strictly forbidden and new resource extraction such as mining, logging, oil and gas exploration, and drilling are prohibit. Because of these tight land use restrictions, some many are concerned that designating hundreds of thousands of acres as new wilderness land could impede American energy resource exploration and development in the future and potentially infringe on private property use within the designation.

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Tags: Budget