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House Rejects Massive Public Lands Protection Package
WASHINGTON, DC, March 11, 2009 (ENS) - House Republicans today blocked the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act of 2009, a comprehensive lands bill that would have designated two million acres of wilderness, protected rivers and trails, and given legal permanence to the National Landscape Conservation System. The measure also would have enlarged a dozen national parks and addressed water supply problems in California.

Because of a procedural maneuver used to get this vote to the floor, a majority of two-thirds was needed. The 282-144 vote in favor fell two votes short of approval. Thirty-four Republicans voted yes.

Congressman Tom Price (Photo courtesy Office of the Congressman)

Republican Study Committee Chairman Congressman Tom Price of Georgia said he and other conservative Repubicans oppose "the pork-filled package" because it would block millions of acres for energy development, expand federal land holdings, give the government even more control over American land, and trample private property rights."

"This bill represents so much of what is wrong with Washington," said Price. "With it, Democrats aimed to transfer power from the people to the government, expand the government's role as the nation's largest landlord, drive up energy prices, and spend even more money on wasteful pork projects. This is not the agenda of the American people. With Americans looking for economic relief, now is not the time to obstruct American energy production and further expand Washington's reach."

When headlines read that banks are failing, it's important for Americans to know that "our national parks are still beautiful, our national battlefields are still sacred and our national rivers are still wild and scenic," said Congressman Nick Rahall, a West Virginia Democrat who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee.

On January 15, the Senate approved the package - 164 separate bills bundled together - with a bipartisan vote of 73-21.

The House could vote again on the measure as early as next week.

Conservation groups across the political spectrum who had labored for years to persuade Congress to pass this legislation were bitterly disappointed with today's vote.

"This bill was the most important conservation legislation that Congress had considered in many years. It passed out of the Senate with strong bipartisan support. Unfortunately, House Republican leaders used extremist rhetoric to block passage by raising anti-conservation red herrings," said David Jenkins, government affairs director with the nonprofit Republicans for Environmental Protection.

The Copper Salmon Wilderness in Oregon would be protected under the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act of 2009. (Photo by Justin Rohde)

The bill would have granted statutory permanence to the National Landscape Conservation System, America's newest network of protected public lands. The NLCS includes wilderness lands, conservation areas, national monuments, wild rivers, and historic trails overseen by the Bureau of Land Management.

"Without statutory permanence, a future administration could take the conservation system apart at the stroke of a pen, endangering the pristine landscapes and historic sites that it protects," Jenkins said.

The legislation also would have protected wilderness areas, wild and scenic rivers, and historic trails from one end of the country to the other, from the New England woods that shaped early American history to the eastern Sierra, where the world's oldest living things, millennia-old bristlecone pines, are found.

"True conservatism imposes a moral duty to protect our natural and historical heritage on behalf of future generations. Unfortunately, the so-called conservatives in charge of our party in the House have a lot to learn about what it means to be truly conservative," said REP Policy Director Jim DiPeso.

"We should not give up on protecting these special places. We urge Congress to keep working to pass this important legislation," DiPeso said.

"While we are very disappointed that the House chose not to protect these national treasures today, we hope Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi and Chairman [Nick] Rahall will bring the bill up for another vote in the near future," said David Moryc, senior director of River Protection at American Rivers. "We are very grateful to the Members who supported this bill today and to the sponsors of the Wild and Scenic provisions on both sides of the aisle for their continued efforts to pass S. 22."

The Wilderness Society also says the fight must go on to pass this legislation. Spokesperson Laura Bailey said, "Today was a blow indeed. But the one great take-away for me and my colleagues was that the bill came so gloriously close to passing. It confirms that Congress needs to keep hearing that we care about the public lands bill."

"As one of our fearless leaders at The Wilderness Society said after the vote, 'It is by no means the end. Today's vote is a delay, not a defeat. This is merely another chapter in a great story.'"

"With that," Bailey said, "we dusted off, stood up straight and prepared to fight another day."

To read previous ENS coverage of the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act of 2009, click here, and here.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2009. All rights reserved.

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