WASHINGTON — Meeting in a rare Sunday session, senators easily overrode Sen. Tom Coburn’s objections to a massive public lands bill and paved the way for passage possibly later this week. By a vote of 66-12, the bill, which includes more than 160 pieces of legislation, cleared a procedural hurdle Coburn had thrown up. Coburn, R-Muskogee, objects to several of the proposals contained in the bill — particularly one that would make about 2 million acres of land in Wyoming off-limits to oil and gas exploration — and he wanted a chance to offer some changes. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, rejected Coburn’s attempts to amend the bill and forced a Sunday vote to keep it moving. Many of the bills were cleared by the House last year and by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Coburn blocked consideration of a similar package of public lands bills last year, and Reid made it a priority early in the new Congress to dispose of them. Coburn complained on Sunday that senators were being asked to vote on a 1,300-page bill that few had read. He said the bill could ultimately cost up to $12 billion at a time when the nation is drowning in red ink. Coburn said the vote on Sunday proved that "the greatest threat to change is a Congress that is addicted to power, pork and the politics of the past. "In a time of economic turmoil, the United States Senate has bigger fish to fry than a pork-laden omnibus lands bill that puts parochial projects that spend $1 billion to rescue 500 salmon in California ahead of our serious economic challenges.”
Who wanted the bill?Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-New Mexico, the chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said Sunday the bills in the package were the result of years of hearings and meetings and were approved by lawmakers from the states affected by them. And he said they represented "possibly the most significant conservation legislation passed by the Senate in the last decade.” As a whole, Bingaman said the package would add more than 2 million acres to the National Wildlife Preservation System, 1,000 miles to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System and more than 2,800 miles to the National Trails System. He said the bill also addressed water resources issues in numerous states. All 12 senators who voted against advancing the legislation on Sunday were Republicans.
Separate bills advisedSen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, backed Coburn’s effort and said, "This bill is a combination of dozens of smaller bills, which should be considered separately and would most likely pass with overwhelming support. For example, there is a provision in the bill which benefits Oklahoma City water supplies, something Congresswoman Mary Fallin and I have long worked to enact. "Unfortunately, there are other provisions in this massive bill that would hinder domestic energy production and place millions of more acres under the jurisdiction of the United States government, costing taxpayers billions to maintain each year.”
About the lands bill
The measure would confer government protection on land ranging from California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range to Oregon’s Mount Hood, Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park, and parts of Virginia’s Jefferson National Forest. Land in Idaho’s Owyhee canyons, Michigan’s Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, and Utah’s Zion National Park would be deemed wilderness. The childhood home of President Bill Clinton in Hope, Ark., would be a national historic site. The Associated Press