WH: GOP making waves with paddle boat bill

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The Obama administration said Wednesday that it opposes a Republican bill allowing kayaks and other paddle boats into forbidden areas of the Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.

The Public Access and Lands Improvement Act, H.R. 2954, eliminates two federal regulations to give paddle boats this expanded access to the two Wyoming parks. House Republicans will call up that bill today and pass it.

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In a Statement of Administration Policy, the White House said the bill's provisions on paddle boats "set a troubling precedent for the management of the use of hand-propelled vessels in Yellowstone and Grand Tetons National Parks."

The SAP did not elaborate, but the White House is likely bothered by the idea of Congress using legislation to strike down two federal regulations.

Supporters of the bill say Congress should take this step because the regulations are outdated. In November, the Jackson Hole News & Guide quoted Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), who said the rules were originally put in place decades ago to prevent overfishing.

Bishop said the regulations have outlived their purpose, and now serve only to keep people out of areas they could be enjoying.

"Recreational activities like paddling are a terrific, low-impact way to enjoy the outdoors," Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), who wrote the paddle boat language, told the paper in an email. "My bill would remove barriers to park managers considering increased access in the park, giving the paddling and rafting community a seat at the table like everyone else."

The paper also quoted an environmental advocate who argued that the bill would require more park personnel to manage the increased access to rivers and streams, and said the bill amounts to an "unfunded mandate."

H.R. 2954 is an omnibus bill that combines Lummis's proposal and nine other land use bills. Among other things, it would prevents the Bureau of Land Management from expanding its inventory of land holdings, and allows for the conveyance of land in a few states. The White House said it opposes most of the proposals in the bill.

"Overall, H.R. 2954 contains a number of provisions that would undermine the responsible balance of interests and considerations in the stewardship of the Nation's lands and natural resources," it said in the SAP. "Further, provisions of the bill would disregard or reduce public engagement on a range of community interests, including natural resource protections, and preclude agencies from considering less environmentally detrimental alternatives."

However, the SAP stopped short of saying President Obama would veto the bill.