Thursday, March 26, 2009

U.S. House passes massive wilderness bill

The U.S. House passed a conservation plan that will protect 2 million acres of natural wilderness and preserve monuments, trails and rivers across the country.

The Omnibus Public Lands Management Act, approved today 285-140, goes to President Barack Obama for his signature. The measure combines more than 160 environmental bills in 1,294 pages to conserve water and protect 1,000 miles of scenic rivers. It would block mining and drilling on millions of acres of land.

“This legislation is good for the land, and good for our children and our grandchildren,” said Representative Raul Grijalva, an Arizona Democrat. The bill cleared the Senate last week.

The measure authorizes up to $10 billion in spending for wildlife and land protection. It would add 2 million acres, or about 800,000 hectares, in nine states to the National Wilderness Preservation System. That system currently consists of 10 million acres, or about 4 million hectares, in 44 states.

The measure is the culmination of years of effort by conservationists, sportsmen and localities to protect large and small swaths of land across the country.

Plan Opponents

Opponents of the plan said it had not been properly vetted for wasteful spending and that it would block access to tens of millions of acres of natural gas and oil reserves.

Representative Tom McClintock, a California Republican, called the bill a “massive land grab.” On the House floor, he said the public good is not served by “mindless and endless acquisition of property” that blocks access to natural gas and other resources.

Public land in Oregon, New Mexico, Colorado, California, Idaho, West Virginia, Virginia, Utah and Michigan will get the new wilderness protection. The legislation also will safeguard rivers in Oregon, Idaho, Arizona, Wyoming, Utah, California and Massachusetts.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the 2 million wilderness acres that will be off-limits to oil and gas drilling won’t hamper domestic energy production.

“Those who argue that putting these kinds of lands into wilderness status is somehow pulling the rug out from under the oil and gas industry are flat wrong, because there are already millions upon millions of acres” open for drilling, Salazar told reporters after the vote.

‘Important’ Legislation

The measure “is the most important piece of conservation legislation Congress has considered in many years,” said Representative Nick Rahall, a West Virginia Democrat who is chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources.

“Passage of this bill is an expression of the home-grown support for one of the largest environmental protection measures in decades,” said Rebecca Wodder, president of American Rivers, an environmental group.

The legislation includes language from Representative Jason Altmire, a Pennsylvania Democrat, to allay concerns by sportsmen and gun-rights lobbyists that it might block hunting on federal land.

The House rejected an amendment from Representative Doc Hastings, a Washington Republican, to allow people to carry concealed weapons into national parks. The provision would have reversed an Interior Department firearms policy.


New Mexico Rep's Heinrich, Lujan & Teague all voted YES on final passage.

Here are the statements of Heinrich & Lujan - Teague's website had no statement.

Rep. Heinrich Votes for Essential Public Lands Bill That Passes House

Representative Martin Heinrich (NM-01) today voted in favor of the Omnibus Public Land Management Act which passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 285-140. The legislation includes more than 160 separate provisions that will protect our national parks and forests, preserve historic places and invest in water infrastructure.

A strong advocate for this legislation, Representative Heinrich went to the House floor today to speak in favor of the bill and to highlight some of the positive effects it will have on the First Congressional District. The following are experts from Representative Heinrich’s floor statement:

“The Rio Grande has been the lifeblood of our community for thousands of years, and for the Pueblo of Sandia this bill will make possible much-needed investments in their water infrastructure and vital agricultural irrigation systems.

“And from east to west, this bill will reauthorize the Route 66 Corridor Program which is essential to preserving the historical character and vibrancy of our beloved Central Avenue.”

Representative Heinrich’s floor statement may be viewed in its entirety at:

The bill contains 12 separate provisions that help preserve New Mexico’s natural resources and specifically ensures access to public lands for hunters and fishermen. Of importance to New Mexico, this legislation protects the Sabinoso Wilderness, invests in irrigation infrastructure for pueblos in the Rio Grande Valley, and authorizes a comprehensive study of New Mexico’s groundwater resources.

The legislation now goes to President Obama for his signature.

Rep. Lujan Votes in Favor of Land Bill

Today, Rep. Ben Ray Luján voted in favor of the Omnibus Land Management Act of 2009, which will conserve thousands of acres of land for future generations and make water resources available to previously underserved communities. Five bills that Rep. Luján introduced were included in the package—including four pieces of legislation that address water availability (Rio Grande Pueblos Irrigation Infrastructure Improvement Act, the Eastern New Mexico Rural Water System Authorization Act, the Navajo-San Juan Indian Water Rights Settlement, and the New Mexico Aquifer Assessment Act) and one piece of legislation that preserves valuable wilderness 40 miles east of Las Vegas, New Mexico (the Sabinoso Wilderness Act). The legislation passed the House by a vote of 285 to 140. The legislation will now go to President Barack Obama’s desk.

“New Mexico’s natural beauty marked by scenic vistas and natural forests is what makes our state beautiful and unique. Today, Congress made an historic statement to protect our beautiful landscapes and the natural resources contained within them by passing the Omnibus Public Land Management Act,” said Rep. Luján. “By passing the Land bill, the House made a commitment to conserving treasured land for the next generation and making water resources available to communities that need it.”

Rep. Luján introduced five pieces of legislation included in the Omnibus Bill. Those measures were originally introduced several years ago by Sen. Jeff Bingaman in the Senate and then-Rep. Tom Udall in the House. As chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Sen. Bingaman authored the Omnibus Bill and shepherded it through the Senate.

"Water availability is a critical issue in New Mexico, and these pieces of legislation will provide many communities with stable access to water," said Rep. Luján. "Communities in New Mexico need access to this precious resource, and this legislation will help alleviate the problems they face with water availability and allocation."

The Rio Grande Pueblos Irrigation Infrastructure Improvement Act would allocate federal resources to Indian tribes in New Mexico to assess and repair irrigation infrastructure in order to help conserve water resources in the area.

The Eastern New Mexico Rural Water System Authorization Act would authorize the Secretary of the Interior to provide financial assistance to the Eastern New Mexico Rural Water Authority for the planning, design, and construction of the Eastern New Mexico Rural Water System.

The Navajo-San Juan Indian Water Rights Settlement would resolve a water dispute that began in 1975 between the state of New Mexico and the Navajo Nation over the resources in the San Juan River. In 2005, a settlement was reached between the state of New Mexico and the Navajo Nation that resolved this dispute. However, it cannot be implemented without legislation that most notably authorizes a series of water infrastructure projects--including creating a water settlement and providing for funds for water resources. The passage of this legislation would resolve the Navajo Nation's claims to the San Juan River, provide the Tribe with an important and long-term water supply, and protect the interests of non-Indian water users in the basin.

The New Mexico Aquifer Assessment Act would authorize the Secretary of Interior to conduct a study on the water resources of New Mexico.

Rep. Luján also introduced the Sabinoso Wilderness Act that would designate approximately 16,000 wilderness acres located 40 milies east of Las Vegas, New Mexico. The land includes a unique and diverse ecosystem that contains vast woodlands and rocky canyons, as well as thriving wildlife and vegetation.

"New Mexico is known as the Land of Enchantment because of our people, beautiful landscapes, clear skies, and fresh air," said Rep. Luján. "The Sabinoso Wilderness embodies the value and beauty of our land. The ecosystem that represents the wilderness is unique to the region and supports diverse wildlife and vegetation—which is why the Sabinoso Wilderness Act is supported by hunters, ranchers, conservationists, and residents who want to preserve the land for future generations. The language will preserve valuable and treasured land, providing the next generation with the opportunity to enjoy it.”

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