Dominguez and other lands poised for congressional approval

It looks like this time may be the charm for the Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area — and for millions of other acres of public lands in the United States.

Last Thursday, the U.S. Senate passed a revised version of the omnibus public lands bill that includes Dominguez-Escalante. It was the second time the Senate has passed such a bill this year.

But when the House took up the first Senate version of the bill earlier this month, the measure died because of a procedural measure that eliminated the possibility of House amendments but required approval of two-thirds of the members to win passage. It fell two votes short of that threshold.

Last week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid met with Sen. Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican who has been the leading critic of the bill. Reid agreed to allow Coburn to introduce and debate a variety of amendments to the bill.

Only one of those amendments was approved Thursday. It would protect visitors and scientists from criminal penalties for taking stones which may contain insignificant fossils from public lands.

Provisions to strike out items that Coburn deemed frivolous, were tabled. Among them were federal funding for a birthday party for St. Augustine, Fla.; botanical gardens in Hawaii and Florida, and a study of Alexander Hamilton’s boyhood estate in the Virgin Islands.

However, the revised omnibus bill also included important language from Rep. Jason Altmire, D-Pa., aimed at ensuring that the legislation would not close off federal lands to hunting and fishing if they are already open to such activities.

To win passage in the House for this revised version of the bill, Democratic leaders have attached the omnibus bill to a an uncontroversial bill that has already passed the House, so they can have a vote on it without accepting any amendments and while requiring only a simple majority for
passage.

We regret that Congress must go through such procedural contortion to pass a bill. But, as we have long argued, the 209,000 acres contained in the proposed Dominguez-Escalante National Recreation Area deserve the special protection that NCA designation will afford them, even as it ensures that most of the area remains open to multiple-use activities.

Moreover, the omnibus bill received widespread support from members of both political parties and from local government officials in areas where public lands are being protected.

We hope the House of Representatives has little problem passing the measure this time, and that it is quickly sent to the president for his signature.


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