For the second time this year, the Senate on Thursday passed a massive package of 170 public lands bills that would create 2 million acres of wilderness nationwide.
Senators took that unusual step to allow the House to reconsider its two-vote defeat of the same bill last week.
The package includes long-sought legislation to determine which areas of Utah's Washington County should be maintained as pristine to help protect endangered species, and which may be developed. The package also contains bills and land trades affecting Park City open space, a Bountiful gun range, a Utah Boy Scout camp, a ranch for troubled youth and trails used by Mormon pioneers.
"When you take all of these bills together, I believe they represent the most significant conservation legislation passed by the Senate in the last 15 years," said Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M.
But Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., had fought the package for months, saying it will lock up too many lands containing oil and gas and contains too much wasteful spending.
"You put 488,000 acres into wilderness that the study areas said should never go into wilderness because they have significant oil, gas and other mineral potentials," he told the Senate. "Parochial interests have taken over and trumped over the national energy needs of this country."
Story continues below
The bill passed 77-20. Sens. Bob Bennett and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, voted for the bill, as they had previously.
The House had killed a similar bill last week by two votes — Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, helped lead the opposition there — but that happened under a House procedure that had required a two-thirds majority for passage.
So the Senate this week brought up a separate House-passed bill about battlefields and added the huge lands package to it. The bill now returns to the House, where rules will not allow amendments — and only a simple majority will be required on the vote whether to accept the House-passed bill with the Senate amendments to it. ...
Comment: More federalization of state, local and private land.