September 2008 Congressional Update on wilderness bills
Author: teddygirl | Wednesday October 08, 2008
The following is from Campaign for Americas Wilderness, an organization that is working to achieve lasting protection for threatened wild lands.
When Congress reconvenes following the political conventions, there will only be a few weeks to finish its business before adjourning in October. The fate of wilderness bills, and many other important pieces of legislation, hinges on resolving persistent partisan gridlock that has stymied the consideration of most bills, particularly on the Senate Floor. Disputes over high energy prices and proposals for additional drilling off the coasts heightened in July, preventing most bills from advancing and increasing the backlog of legislation remaining to be dealt with in the final days of the 110th Congress.
The Senate Democratic majority is narrow, resting on two independents who regularly vote with the Party on domestic issues. During the 110th Congress, bills have been routinely filibustered by the Minority, obligating the Majority to put together the 60 votes necessary to invoke cloture and limit debate in the Senate. Complicating matters further are absences because of campaigning, illnesses and hospitalizations. Thus, Senate bills need significant bi-partisan support under the best of circumstances to pass.
But, as gasoline prices skyrocketed over the summer, the Minority insisted on taking up Floor amendments to expand off-shore oil leasing. When the Democratic Leadership resisted, the Minority held together, preventing cloture on all efforts to move to any other bills. In the meantime, a bi-partisan group of ten senators has assembled a compromise proposal to address energy concerns---providing some limited leasing, coupled with energy conservation and anti-speculation measures. This proposal, in turn, is opposed by various environmental groups who reject any increase in coastal leasing, as well as by those who resist the proposal’s provisions to end certain tax breaks for oil companies. Nevertheless, House and Senate Leadership stated that they intend to take up energy proposals in September.
If this logjam is broken, the most likely wilderness bill to advance is S. 3213 - the Omnibus Public Land Management Act, introduced in June by Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman. Comprising over 90 separate measures that the Committee has approved, but which have been blocked on the Floor, the legislation contains seven separate new wilderness proposals—including the Wild Monongahela Wilderness Act for West Virginia, the Mt. Hood Wilderness Act for Oregon, the Rocky Mountain National Park Wilderness Act for Colorado, and the Owyhee Public Lands Management Act for Idaho. Currently, the bill contains just over a million acres of new wilderness designations.
While the Leadership works to resolve the Floor situation, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Members and bill sponsors are continuing efforts to negotiate other measures that may be added to the existing package. Wilderness bills for Oregon, Colorado, New Mexico and California have received hearings and are under active consideration. But, to advance, they will require bi-partisan support.
For more information, visit Campaign for Americas Wilderness website.