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House Plan for Consideration of Lands Bill Draws Concern

A leading western business group has expressed "grave concerns" about the way the House Democratic leadership may handle the debate on the $10-12 billion omnibus lands package, which would take millions of acres of public lands off the table for potential oil and natural gas development.

"We understand that the House leadership may soon bring this huge package straight to the floor under the suspension calendar," wrote the Western Business Roundtable, a group of top executives of companies doing business in the West, in a letter to House lawmakers. Bills considered under the House suspension calendar are debated for only 40 minutes, may not be amended, and require a two-thirds vote for passage.

"We strongly urge you to oppose such tactics intended to avoid standard legislative process on the package. There are some worthy provisions in S. 22 that are supportable on their individual merits," the roundtable said. But the bulk of omnibus lands package (S. 22), which includes more than 160 individual land bills, "has resulted in a flawed product" that:

In addition to voicing concerns about procedure, the roundtable called on House lawmakers to oppose the lands bill on substantive grounds. "Given the very grave and substantive impacts this very controversial bill would have on the West, we strongly urge you [to] opposed S. 22 when it comes up for consideration on the House floor."

In mid-January, the Senate unanimously passed the omnibus lands bill by 73-21 (see NGI, Jan. 19). The vote was a major setback for domestic oil and gas producers, but a clear victory for environmental, wildlife and conservation groups.

The Omnibus Public Lands Management Act of 2009, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), would result in the addition of more than two million new acres to the National Wilderness Preservation System. It would establish three new units of the National Park System and enlarge more than a dozen existing areas, create a new National Monument and three new National Conservation Areas, and codify the Save America's Treasures and Preserve America historic preservation programs.

In addition, it would designate more than 1,000 miles of new additions to the National Wild and Scenic River system, would help protect 1.2 million acres of the Wyoming Range, and would add four new trails to the National Trails System for a combined addition of more than 2,800 miles of new trails.

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