Energy & Environment

Conservatives push back against parks provisions in defense bill

Some conservative lawmakers and outside groups are pushing back against a defense bill because of the new parks and wilderness areas it would create.

But the opposition to the bipartisan package on public land and energy was not enough to sink the National Defense Authorization Act in the House, where it passed easily Thursday.

{mosads}After the vote, Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) said the land provisions were one of the reasons he voted against the legislation, which he said in a tweet “grabs land from states.”

Amash was one of 32 Republicans voting against the bill.

The land package attached to the defense bill would, among other actions, add 250,000 acres of new wilderness designations, conserve 400,000 acres of public land from development and create 15 new national parks or park expansions.

It would also expand a program to expedite oil-and-gas drilling permits and swap land to permit a massive copper mine. The Senate will consider the bill next week.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) assailed the lawmakers who negotiated the bill, calling it an “extreme land grab.”

“With the military’s shrinking budget, it is offensive that this bill would be used to fund congressional pork,” he said, adding that it is disrespectful to members of the military to attach the land provisions.

The annual defense bill is considered must-pass legislation, which presents an opportunity to pass the first significant conservation legislation in five years.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) joined Cruz in calling for his colleagues to block the legislation.

Coburn wrote in a letter to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) that he intended “to utilize all procedural options at my disposal as a United States Senator, including objecting to any unanimous consent agreements or time limitations,” to stop such a bill from passing.

Conservative organizations are backing the lawmakers in their objections.

The Heritage Foundation blasted the move, saying the land package “would lead to more government ownership of America’s land and more restrictive land-use policies that prohibit energy development and economic activity.”

The Competitive Enterprise Institute called the agreement “a backroom deal that would lock up use of hundreds of thousands of acres of land.”

Top lawmakers overseeing defense and natural resources in both chambers defended the deal as a necessary step that accomplishes their conservation, energy and defense priorities. 

Tags Justin Amash National Defense Authorization Act national parks Ted Cruz Tom Coburn

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