House passes major public lands package
The House on Friday passed a sprawling conservation bill 227-200 aimed at preserving land and water in Arizona, Colorado, California and Washington state.
The legislation, called the Protecting America’s Wilderness and Public Lands Act, combined eight bills that had previously been introduced.
The bill aims to provide extra protection to about 1.5 million acres of public lands by designating them as wilderness.
It would also prevent new oil, gas and mineral extraction on more than 1.2 million acres of public land and preserve 1,000 river miles by adding them to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.
The vote was largely along party lines, with eight Republicans voting to support the bill and only one Democrat voting against it.
“Each title of this bill considers how best to protect public lands and provide for local considerations. Together, they will improve access to clean water, clean air, outdoor recreation and yes, they will even support jobs and our economy,” said Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.) during a floor speech on Thursday.
However, opponents lamented that the legislation didn’t go through the committee process and also said it would limit access to certain activities.
“This chamber has bypassed the committee process and circumvented the will of members who represent districts directly impacted by this legislation,” said Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) on Thursday.
“The consequences of this bill on the four Western states it impacts will be far-reaching,” he added. “If you live in Colorado and you enjoy recreating on mountain biking and ATV trails … this bill will shut down your ability to recreate on those lands,” he added.
The bill is backed by the White House but could face an uphill battle in the Senate, where it would need 60 votes to avoid a filibuster.
The vast majority of the mining portion of the bill, about 1 million acres, would codify prevention on mining specifically around the Grand Canyon.
In 2012, the Obama administration placed a 20-year moratorium on uranium mining on the land surrounding the Grand Canyon, but environmentalists feared that the Trump administration would open it back up.
“It’s an international tourism attraction. It’s important to the area’s economy. It is critically important to take care of it because it looks down and flows into the Colorado River. We don’t need that type of contamination in the river,” Tom O’Halleran (D-Ariz.), whose district includes the Grand Canyon and much of its surrounding land, said in an interview this week.