November 30, 2010

Boxer, Reid huddle over strategy for massive resources bill

Colleagues enlist Reid's help with last-ditch push for massive water, lands, wildlife package

By Paul Quinlan, John McArdle and Patrick Reis
E and E Publishing

Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Harry Reid (D-NV)

The full-court press is on to assemble and pass a monumental package of waterways, public lands and wildlife bills in the final days of this Congress.

Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) met with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) last night to discuss packaging a slew of waterways bills that won bipartisan endorsements from her committee with measures that emerged with similarly broad-based support from the Energy and Natural Resources Committee aimed at protecting more than 2 million acres and creating new national parks, monuments, wilderness areas and wildlife sanctuaries.

"It was great," Boxer said of her meeting with Reid. "What we're doing is we're talking to the Republicans now who voted for all the bills in my committee to see if they will go along with doing a package of bills."
Boxer added it was unlikely that such a bill could pass the Senate with unanimous support; thus, work is under way to obtain the necessary 60 votes.

"I think we have a good chance because they are bipartisan bills," Boxer said.

Reid spokeswoman Regan Lachapelle declined to discuss the meeting's outcome but said a package was possible. "We do not discuss private meetings, but this is on a list of possible items for consideration this work period," she said in an e-mail.

Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee's National Parks Subcommittee, said his committee's bills have "broad support" and that he was working down a list of Republican colleagues to ask if they would be supportive.

"There's a lot of conversation occurring right now," Udall said. "There's been a lot of hard work the last two years, and it would be disappointing, to say the least, if a lot of these targeted bills died because the Senate couldn't find the time to move them forward."

Others, like Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio), who sits on Boxer's committee and hopes to pass a Great Lakes bill he is co-sponsoring as part of the package, spoke more pessimistically about the odds of success in a badly divided Senate chamber with an already swamped agenda for the lame-duck session.

"I think it's a problem getting anything done at this stage in the game," Voinovich said. "Anything now is going to be tough."

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), who wants to include a Chesapeake Bay bill that would backstop the Obama administration's ambitious, U.S. EPA-led effort to clamp down on farm and stormwater pollution, also warned of the long odds.

"Lame ducks are always uncertain," Cardin said. His bill, the most controversial of the waterways bills, eventually won bipartisan committee support after negotiations with the GOP. "Significant changes were made because of their concerns. I think we got it right."

Environmental groups continue to push for action on what they say would be a landmark package. The waterways bills up for consideration, which sailed through Boxer's committee in June, would protect and restore the Great Lakes, Chesapeake Bay, Puget Sound, Long Island Sound, Gulf of Mexico and San Francisco Bay. Most would authorize, but do not appropriate, money for EPA to set up new program offices relating to the major waterways, award grants and increase accountability.

The Pew Charitable Trusts is running an ad in tomorrow's editions of Roll Call and Politico that will urge Republicans and Democrats to pass the bipartisan wilderness legislation, which the ad says would "give permanent protection to more than two million acres of breathtaking landscapes in thirteen states -- from Washington State's Alpine Lakes to Idaho's Boulder-White Clouds to Tennessee's Upper Bald River."

"Hunters, anglers, business leaders, conservationists and other local citizens who've worked together to get these measures this far are counting on Congress to take action before it adjourns," the ad says, against a backdrop of New Mexico's Organ Mountains, which include lands in line to receive protection.