Energy, public land measures tacked onto defense bill

Lawmakers added a bipartisan series of long-awaited energy and public lands measures to a compromise defense bill.

Congress had not passed any significant bills related to public lands in years, frustrating lawmakers from western states with large swaths of publicly owned and managed property.

ADVERTISEMENT
The proposed National Defense Authorization Act, considered a must-pass bill to enable the Defense Department’s programs to continue, had its text released late Tuesday night after months of negotiations by the House and Senate.

“I am pleased that after weeks of negotiations, we have reached a bipartisan and bicameral agreement to advance this series of public lands bills,” Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa MurkowskiOvernight Energy: Democrats take on key Trump Interior nominee Democrats prod Trump Interior nominee over lobbying work GOP senators push Trump for DOE research funding MORE (Alaska), top Republican on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said in a statement.

“We have worked hard to develop a balanced package that will increase resource production and provide new economic opportunities for western communities,” she said.

The bill would enable a number of mineral development projects, including a controversial massive copper mine in Arizona.

The Resolution Mine, backed by United Kingdom-based Rio Tinto, had long been a Republican priority, but environmentalists and some Democrats had tried to block it. The bill would authorize a land swap between Rio Tinto and the federal government to allow the copper mine, which would be the third largest in the world.

Lawmakers also want to expand a Bureau of Land Management program to streamline oil and gas drilling permits and move 110,000 acres of land out of federal control, among other Republican priorities.

Conservation and other Democratic priorities also got some attention, including designations for new national parks and setting aside 245,000 new acres of wilderness.

“We are closer than ever to making historic gains in protecting some of New Mexico’s most treasured landscapes,” Sen. Martin HeinrichMartin HeinrichDems seek damage assessment after Trump's meeting with Russians Dem senators push for probe of Sessions over Comey firing Dem senator lists Trump’s past ‘recklessness’ on classified info MORE (D-N.M.), a member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said in a statement.

“From designating the Columbine-Hondo as wilderness, increasing public access to the Valles Caldera, and establishing the Manhattan National Historical Park, to streamlining the oil and gas drilling permit process, these provisions will have a significant impact on growing our economy,” he said.

The Wilderness Society said it was pleased to see Congress move on conservation measures.

“These measures protect invaluable drinking water sources, wildlife habitat, and places to hunt, camp, and experience our great outdoors while strengthening local economies and enhancing the quality of life for countless Americans,” Jamie Williams, the group’s president, said in a statement.

But Williams added that he is disappointed with many of the development-focused provisions, including the Resolution Mine.