November 22, 2008

Roundtable Claims Victory as Senate Delays Lands Bill

Roundtable Applauds Congressional Allies for Standing Firm Against Lame Duck Consideration of The Omnibus Lands Bill

News Blaze

The Western U.S. came out a winner as the U.S. Congress was unable to pass a massive lands bill this week that would have placed millions of acres of federal lands under enhanced federal control.

Some Congressional leaders had sought to ram the bill through this past week's "lame duck" session of Congress. But public opposition -- rallied in part by the Roundtable and other Western groups, as well as the opposition of key Members of Congress -- blocked the land grab bill from being brought up.

Congressional leaders vowed to try to pass the bill when the Congress reconvenes in January 2009.

The massive, 1076-page measure included more than 150 bills that would:

  • Create or expand a number of wilderness areas;

  • Establish new conservation areas;

  • Create/ add to wild and scenic designations;

  • Designate new national scenic trails;

  • Add new national and historic park units;

  • Add nearly a dozen new national heritage areas.
Of greatest concern to the Roundtable is the inclusion within the package of language that would statutorily establish the National Landscape Conservation System (NLCS) within the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

"Stopping this huge package from being rammed through the Congress is a big win for Westerners," said Britt Weygandt, Executive Director of the Roundtable. In particular, Weygandt lauded the efforts of Senator Tom Coburn (OK) and Representative Rob Bishop (UT), who led the fight to put the brakes on the package.

"Postponing consideration is the right thing to do. It is our hope that Congress will use the additional time to reconsider some of the package's more troubling provisions," Weygandt added, noting the Roundtable's particular concerns with provisions seeking to codify NLCS. The U.S. Department of Interior's Inspector General recently initiated an investigation for possible violations of anti-lobbying law, by federal employees, related to the NLCS provisions.

The NLCS is comprised of 27 million acres of federal lands administered by the BLM including National Monuments, National Conservation Areas, Wilderness and Wilderness Study Areas, Wild and Scenic Rivers, and National Scenic and Historic Trails. The vast majority of these lands are located in 12 Western states. The bill would give federal land managers the ability to alter the long-standing multiple use management philosophy of the BLM by elevating the conservation purposes above other purposes for NLCS units. To see a comprehensive breakdown of how each Western state is impacted by NLCS codification, go here.

The Roundtable had taken a lead role in rallying Westerners to oppose this huge federal land grab, spearheading efforts with dozens of other Western business, county, and fiscally conservative organizations who were concerned the bill would curtail the development of energy resources and public access for recreation on wide swaths of federal lands. Over the past several months, numerous letters from the Roundtable have been sent to Congressional Members calling on them to postpone consideration of this massive package.

While some of the provisions in this omnibus bill are non-controversial, there were key sections that raised serious concerns for Western multiple use access, agricultural, recreation, business, county, energy, and fiscal groups. "This legislation would give opponents of multi-use the ability to limit recreational access and restrict economic activity to vast "landscape-wide" areas," noted Weygandt. "This could mean agriculture, energy exploration and production and other economic uses could become imperiled on huge swathes of Western public lands."

"Certainly, for Westerners, there are always very real trade-offs involved with any public lands designation. We believe such bills need to be considered individually so each can evaluated carefully," said Weygandt. "Bulk packaging of legislation has a checkered record for Congress. It doesn't work well on Appropriations bills. It certainly doesn't work on land designations, where such designations can mean the difference between economic health and peril for Western communities. We hope the 111th Congress will do this the right way, letting each of these measures rise or fall on their individual merits."