Bingaman on Lands Bill Advancing

January 11, 2009
02:29 PM
Omnibus Public Lands Management Act
“Mr. President, this afternoon the Senate will vote whether to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed to S. 22, the Omnibus Public Lands Act, a package of over 160 bills that primarily consists of public land, national park, and water development bills that were reported last Congress by the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.  Consideration of these bills has been long delayed, and I strongly support moving forward with this package expeditiously, beginning this afternoon with a vote to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed to the bill.
“This package of bills has been developed on a bipartisan basis, first in consultation last year with Senator Domenici, at that time the ranking member of the Energy Committee and this year in consultation with Senator Murkowski.  As developed last Congress, the package included roughly an even number of bills sponsored by Democrats and Republicans, or by a combination of both.  In many cases bills sponsored by a Senator from one party had a lead sponsor in the House of Representatives from the other party.  While the composition of some State delegations has changed since the election, S. 22 remains very much a bipartisan package.
“Although this package of bills was introduced just a few days ago, the history of the 160 bills it incorporates goes back much further, and I’d like to take a minute to discuss the process involved.  Last Congress, almost 500 bills were referred to the Energy Committee, about half of which dealt with public land and water resource issues. 
“Over the course of the last Congress, our committee held over 40 public hearings on those bills and they were marked up over the course of five separate business meetings.  All but a very few of those bills were reported by the committee unanimously.  Up until the past few years, once the committee had approved a group of bills, especially when that approval was on a unanimous vote, the bills would then be taken up and passed by the Senate by unanimous consent.  As everyone is aware, we are no longer able to move bills in that fashion, which has necessitated combining many bills into a single package, to allow for the consideration of as many bills as possible within the limited availability of time on the Senate floor.
“Some of my colleagues may remember that the Senate took up and passed a different package of public land bills last year.  In an effort to send as many bills to the President as quickly as possible, that package only included bills that had been passed by the House of Representatives. It was my intent at that time to bring up the Senate-introduced bills shortly afterwards.  Unfortunately, because of the need to devote floor time to other matters, the Senate was not able to take up the second package of public lands bills that had originated in the Senate.  With the exception of one bill passed as a tribute to our late colleague Craig Thomas, this meant that no lands bills introduced in the Senate during the last Congress, which were approved by the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, were passed by the Senate.  In several instances, bills have been held over more than one Congress, despite the support of both of the affected State’s Senators and despite the unanimous approval of the committee of jurisdiction.  It is time to pass these bills and move on.
“Some have suggested that these bills are not a priority deserving of Senate floor action.  I disagree.  Many of the bills in this package resolve major land and water policy issues that have been contested over for years, and in some cases for decades.  Ask any of the Senators who have spent the years working through these issues: for example, Senator Wyden, and his Mt. Hood wilderness bill, or Senator Crapo, and his Owyhee Canyonlands bill, or Senator Bennett and his Washington County lands bill, or as I can attest with my Navajo Indian water settlement bill; these bills are of major importance in our respective States, and they constitute important national policy deserving of Senate action.
“While the individual bills in this package were initially developed at a local level, the combination of these 160 bills reflects possibly the most significant conservation legislation passed by the Senate in the past decade.  The Omnibus Public Lands Management Act will result in the addition of over 2 million new acres to the National Wilderness Preservation System.  It will establish three new units of the National Park System and enlarge more than a dozen existing areas.  It will establish a new National Monument and three new National Conservation Areas to be administered by the Bureau of Land Management.   It will add over 1,000 miles to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System, one of the largest additions to that system ever achieved.  And it will add four new trails to the National Trails System, a combined addition of over 2,800 miles of new trails.
“In addition to addressing important public lands issues, S. 22 also includes 30 provisions that will help address water resource issues across the country.  While States and local communities bear the primary responsibility for allocating and managing water, the Federal government has a responsibility to be a dependable partner in that effort.  S. 22 promotes Federal, State, and local cooperation by ensuring that comprehensive efforts are made to help water resource managers meet the many challenges confronting them including those due to drought, climate change, population increases, and environmental needs.
“Specifically, the bill authorizes a range of studies to assist communities conduct in-depth reviews of local water supplies and evaluate the best ways to meet future water needs.  There are also specific authorizations for local and regional projects that enhance water-use efficiencies; address infrastructure in disrepair; provide a sustainable supply to rural communities; and help conserve water.  The bill also advances an overall understanding of the nation’s water resources, including the impact of climate change on water.  Perhaps most importantly, S. 22 will help end literally decades of litigation by ratifying three important water settlements in California, Nevada, and New Mexico.  These settlements – involving Indian tribes, agricultural and municipal water users, environmental interests, and the applicable states – will resolve decades-old litigation in a manner consistent with Federal responsibilities and with the broad support of the diverse interests involved.
“A few minutes ago, I referred to the importance of the Navajo Indian water rights settlement in my State of New Mexico.  For far too long, a large percentage of the Navajo people living on the Reservation – 40% by most accounts – have gone without readily accessible drinking water supplies, a convenience so many other Americans take for granted.  As a result, approximately 40% of Navajo people live below the poverty level.  The situation is capable of improvement, though, as the Indian Health Service has concluded that every dollar spent on sanitation benefits, which includes drinking water infrastructure, yields a twenty-fold return in health benefits to Native Americans.  This settlement will provide clean drinking water supplies to the Navajo Nation and is a high priority for the Navajo people who stand to benefit.  It is also a high priority for the State of New Mexico, which is contributing significant amounts to the settlement to address this situation, even though it is arguably a Federal responsibility.  The bill includes many similar examples, where competing interests have set aside their differences to work towards long-term benefits which are a priority for their communities.
“Much of the focus of this bill has been on its conservation aspects, which are significant.  But equally important, the bill includes numerous provisions to improve Federal land management and to help local communities throughout the West.  This bill will establish a Forest Landscape Restoration Program to promote collaborative landscape restoration to reduce fire risk and fire costs, and to provide new forest product jobs.  Similarly, it will create a cooperative watershed management program to provide limited federal assistance for local watershed groups working to manage water resources in a collaborative and cooperative manner to help improve local watershed quality while benefiting local economies and reducing the likelihood of new litigation.               On a smaller level, the bill includes several conveyances of surplus federal land and property to assist local communities in providing public services.
“Some have questioned the wisdom of protecting Federal lands at a time when the nation is seeking to expand domestic conventional and alternative energy production.  First of all, it’s important to note that according to the Bureau of Land Management, almost none of the wilderness areas that would be created by this bill are believed to contain significant energy development potential.
“Most of the newly designated wilderness areas are located in Western States that are also home to significant energy production.  As a Senator from one such State, I understand and support the need to maintain a robust energy development program.  At the same time, there is an increasing push to protect the remaining special places that define the West and our nation.  And those two goals aren’t mutually exclusive.  Former New Mexico Senator Clinton Anderson, chairman of the predecessor to our Energy and Natural Resources Committee, once eloquently stated:

“Knowing [wilderness] is there, we can also know that we are still a rich Nation, tending our resources as we should—not a people in despair searching every last nook and cranny of our land for a board of lumber, a barrel of oil, a blade of grass, or a tank of water.”
“Because of the many years of efforts by the individual sponsors, and most of all, because of years of work by local concerned citizens, the Omnibus Public Lands Act will ensure the protection of important parts of our nation’s natural, cultural, and historic legacy, while staying consistent with a sound national energy policy.

“Action on these bills has already been delayed for far too long.  It is time for the Senate to recognize the importance of these individual efforts and the national significance of the bill taken as a whole.
“For those reasons I urge my colleagues to join me in voting to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed to this bill.”
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