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Senate Advances Lands Bill; Coburn Pushes Back

The Senate moved the $10 billion omnibus lands bill a step closer to passage Monday and put into play a strategy that, if successful, could get the legislation over some of the procedural hurdles that have stalled the measure in the House. The bill would take millions of acres of public lands in the West off the table for potential oil and natural gas development.

The Senate invoked cloture (73-21) on HR 146, a bill on historic battlefields that is serving as a legislative vehicle for the broad lands package. Sen Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), the sponsor of the lands bill, was to offer an amendment Tuesday that would strike and replace HR 146 with the text of the lands bill, including a House amendment addressing gun possession on public lands.

NGI was unable to confirm whether Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), a staunch opponent of the measure, was able to reach an agreement with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) Tuesday on nine amendments that he seeks to offer to the lands bill. If a deal was not reached, Coburn could procedurally move to stall the underlying bill, said a Republican aide on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. A final vote on the lands bill initially was scheduled for Thursday, but the tactics by Coburn could "[put] us well into the weekend."

If the lands bill clears the Senate, after having initially been passed by the chamber in January, it would be sent to the House for a second bite at the apple (see Daily GPI, Jan. 16). The measure failed in the House (282-144) last Wednesday, falling two votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to pass the bill under the suspension calendar (see Daily GPI, March 12). House leaders offered the bill under the suspension calendar to avoid amendments to the legislation.

The bill could clear the House on the second try if the Rules Committee agrees to a closed rule, which would ban amendments to the bill on the House floor. This would allow Democrat leaders to bring up the bill under the regular calendar, which would require only a simple majority (218 votes) for passage.

The question now is whether the "procedural gymnastics" of Senate and House leaders will work, said Dan Naatz, vice president for federal resources for the Independent Petroleum Association of America.

"You're starting to see more and more policymakers in the House question" the lands legislation, he said. But, Naatz added, "the power of [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi and the Senate majority leader to move legislation is very difficult to stop."

The lands package combines more than 150 individual land measures, which create new wilderness designations, wild and scenic rivers, hiking trails, heritage areas, water projects and historic preservation initiatives. Naatz estimated that the broad lands bill closes more than 20 million acres of public lands to oil and gas development. It's estimated that the bill would remove 331 million bbl and 8.8 Tcf in Wyoming from potential production.

The bill also includes 92 National Wild and Scenic River designations covering 1,100 miles that would prohibit any pipeline or transmission crossing, according to Coburn.

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