Senate Advances Public Lands Legislation

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The U.S. Senate, meeting in a rare Sunday session, voted 66-12 to move forward with a massive package of public lands bills that would shut motorcyclists out of more than 2 million acres of public land.

The Omnibus Public Lands Management Act, Senate Bill 22, groups more than 160 public lands bills to create more than 2 million acres of designated Wilderness land, which would shut out all motorized vehicles. The bill’s chief sponsor is Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

The last-minute congressional maneuver would approve wilderness designations in California, Oregon, Idaho, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Michigan, West Virginia and Virginia, and make the National Landscape Conservation System permanent. The bill could cost an estimated $10-12 billion.

Speaking on the Senate floor on Sunday, Bingaman called the measure “possibly the most significant conservation legislation passed by the Senate in the past decade.”

Sunday’s vote to move forward with the legislation clears the way for the Senate to debate and vote on the bill’s passage this week. It then goes for debate to the House.

Critics – including the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) and U.S. Chamber of Commerce – say the new Congress should put together a new package and pass it through committee rather than debate legislation carried over from the previous Congress.

The AMA says the bill creates an additional level of bureaucracy for the National System of Public Lands and would remove much of the authority of the existing agency in managing those lands.

"It makes little sense to lump together more than 160 very important public lands bills into one package that is nearly 1,300 pages long, and then expect the public to digest it all – and to rush a vote through the Senate on a weekend," says Ed Moreland, AMA vice president for government relations. "This measure deserves to be fully analyzed and thoughtfully debated in the next Congress prior to a final vote."

- Submitted by Guido Ebert