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E&E News: Reid backs omnibus lands bill, suggests post-Christmas session
December 14, 2010

Posted by Matt Dempsey Matt_Dempsey@epw.senate.gov

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Reid backs omnibus lands bill, suggests post-Christmas session

(12/14/2010)

Phil Taylor, E&E reporter

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) today said a public lands and waterways package being brokered by two committee leaders is "extremely important" and among a handful of bills he hopes to pass before the session ends.

Reid also indicated he is willing to call lawmakers back into session after Christmas in order to complete work on items including the natural resources legislation, a repeal of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, an immigration bill called the "DREAM Act" and a number of presidential nominations.

"I want to get out of here as soon as we can, but we're not going to walk away from any of the work we have to do," Reid told reporters following a Democratic caucus meeting today. "Congress ends on Jan. 4."

Reid noted that Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) and Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) have been working to put together the natural resources omnibus. "We're going to see if we can get some things to move forward on that," Reid said.

The measure includes more than 60 public lands bills passed by Bingaman's panel and 21 waterways and wildlife bills approved by Boxer's, according to a draft bill and a Senate aide.

While many of the public lands bills contain small-scale land swaps, boundary adjustments and trail revisions, others include sizable wilderness designations and important land and lease transfers that would either facilitate or prohibit mineral development.

But some waterways provisions -- namely, a Chesapeake Bay restoration bill from the EPW Committee that Republicans contend would cede new authority to U.S. EPA -- continue to face strong opposition from GOP leaders including Oklahoma Sens. James Inhofe and Tom Coburn, who vowed to block such a package (E&ENews PM, Dec. 7).

The public lands components, many of which passed by a unanimous vote, likely face similar resistance from Republican lawmakers.

"The majority leader has waited two years to even bring these bills to the floor, and now he's threatening to call members back after Christmas to vote on an overstuffed omnibus lands bill?" said Robert Dillon, spokesman for Energy and Natural Resources ranking member Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). "Good luck getting 60 members to leave their families for that."

But the mere mention of movement on a public lands, waterways and wildlife omnibus from Reid has raised hope among environmental groups that grass-roots efforts to get the bills past Senate committees will bear fruit.

"[Senate] leadership staff has indicated that it is not impossible," said Tim Mahoney, legislative director for the Pew Campaign for America's Wilderness, which has pushed for passage of some of the bills included in the package.

"This is the first time we've heard something that good," he said of Reid's remarks. "It's certainly a lot better news that we've had so far."

Reid's staff sees a natural resources omnibus as a rare chance for members to bring something home to their districts and therefore worth the extra time needed to see such a large bill through to completion.

"There are members of the leader's staff who recognize there are local political benefits for members of his caucus if they can do this, and for that reason, in addition to all they others, they may want to keep them here to get it done or find space for it on the calendar," said an environmental lobbyist tracking the bill's progress.

Reporter Paul Quinlan contributed.

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