Nation & World

Lawmakers go west for hearing on public lands

WASHINGTON — The perennial conflict over public lands will surge again Monday in Sacramento, Calif., as congressional Republicans showcase their unhappiness over environmental restrictions they consider excessive.

Carpenters will complain about logging restrictions, motorcycle riders will plead for more off-road access and conservative lawmakers will hope to build momentum for bills whose long-term prospects remain uncertain.

"All of the West is under attack from radical environmentalists, so we'll have to move legislation," Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., said in an interview. "Jobs are being destroyed."

The Sacramento field hearing, and others like it, provides a stage for competing political narratives. Republicans can emphasize jobs; one of their witnesses Monday is from the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America. Democrats can stress the vulnerable environment; one of their witnesses is from Trout Unlimited.

"There's been a full assault on any effort to stop rampant resource development," Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif., said of congressional Republicans.

However it's characterized, there's certainly been no shortage of legislative proposals concerning public land use.

Prompted by President Bill Clinton's designation of the 328,000-acre Giant Sequoia National Monument in 2000, Nunes authored a bill to slow the creation of additional national monuments. His is one of a number of GOP bills likely to win favor in the House subcommittee on national parks, forests and public lands, which organized the Sacramento field hearing.

Some pending bills would specify that presidents cannot establish new national monuments in Montana, Utah or Idaho without congressional approval. Others would give state legislatures a veto over national monuments in their state or, like the Nunes bill, let the monument designations lapse without subsequent congressional approval.

Several different federal agencies currently administer some 100 national monuments nationwide, including the California Coastal, Carrizo Plain and Muir Woods monuments in California.

Republican presidents designated five of California's 10 national monuments, including one that commemorates the Tule Lake camp that incarcerated Japanese-Americans during World War II.

Beyond national monument controversies, the House subcommittee led by tea party favorite Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, is considering several broader public lands bills, including one by Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.

The legislation by McCarthy, the House majority whip, would lift current interim protections from 6.6 million acres of Bureau of Land Management property.

Still other bills are designed to open up Forest Service land for multiple uses including grazing and mining.

Republicans run the House panel on public lands with a 13-10 margin, giving them the power to set agendas, dominate witness lists and move bills through the House over the objection of Democrats.

The Democratic-controlled Senate, though, poses a potentially serious impediment to the House's public lands efforts, and Garamendi predicted the House's most aggressive proposals won't go far. The Obama administration, too, has already stressed its opposition to a number of the House bills, including the national monument bill written by Nunes and the Bureau of Land Management bill written by McCarthy.

"Through our wilderness decisions, we demonstrate a sense of stewardship and conservation that is uniquely American," Bureau of Land Management Director Robert Abbey told the House subcommittee earlier this year.


House Natural Resources Committee website


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