Congress

Bipartisan lands bill protecting millions of acres and 650 miles of river to get House vote

The bill is expected to remain identical to what the Senate passed Feb. 12

Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., left, and Del. Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan, I-N. Marianas on Tuesday, February 12, 2019. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A public lands bill that the Senate passed two weeks ago with overwhelming bipartisan support will get a vote in the House on Tuesday.

The bill is expected to remain identical to what the Senate passed Feb. 12. House Natural Resources Chairman Raul M. Grijalva of Arizona had promised Senate supporters that he would urge House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to quickly bring up the package in the House if the upper chamber passed it without significant changes to a deal agreed to last year.

The package includes legislation that would provide federal protections to large swaths of public lands and also permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund, whose authority lapsed at the end of September when Congress failed to act on time.

The House will vote on the bill under suspension of rules, meaning it will not be subject to amendments. An aide for Grijalva said the lawmaker expects no hiccups for the bill. Natural Resources ranking member Rob Bishop will support the bill “as it currently stands,” an aide for the Utah Republican said.

The package, a product of months of bipartisan and bicameral negotiations, would protect millions of acres of federal lands, including 1.3 million acres of wilderness designations in California, Utah, Oregon and New Mexico. It would designate 650 miles of river as wild and scenic, and would create four new national monuments.

Senate lawmakers succeeded in warding off attempts by lawmakers including Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, to make last minute changes to the bill that would have cost it Grijalva’s support.

“We don’t want to send this back to the Senate, [Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.] doesn’t want to have to do this twice, and we’re all looking forward to finishing this in a clean and orderly way,’ Grijalva’s aide said in an email.

Reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation fund, the centerpiece of the lands package, has been a priority for lawmakers for both parties, but its passage has in recent years been bogged down by competing demands, including from some conservative lawmakers who want to overhaul the program to use money from the fund to pay for other priorities and prevent its use for federal land acquisitions.

The popular program collects money from private sector oil and gas profits from federal lands to help pay for conservation of public recreation areas including national parks, forests and wildlife refuges. The bill has the backing of several western state lawmakers, conservationists and the outdoor recreation industry.

"It’s one of the biggest bipartisan wins for this country I’ve ever seen in Congress,” Grijalva said after the Senate passage of the bill.

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