Dirt biker, Shotgun Creek OHV Area, BLM Oregon.

Happy New Year!

We hope you like the new design of our website. It went “live” the third week of December, but with the distribution of the January newsletter, this will be the first time most of you will experience our new look. We hope you like it and that you find it easier to navigate around the ARRA website.

The first sentence of the December newsletter read, “So much has happened since our last newsletter.” Well, it also sums up all that went on in Washington during the very last month of 2018. A couple of cabinet changes were announced including the resignation of Ryan Zinke, Secretary of the Interior. We suggested in our last newsletter that this was in the works, but his last day as a Cabinet Secretary was on January 2nd. There has been a lot of speculation on a possible replacement, but nothing firm as of this date. In the meantime, Zinke’s Deputy Secretary, David Bernhardt, is serving as the Acting Secretary.

House Democrats finalized their slate of leaders for the 116th Congress. Nancy Pelosi is once again Speaker, but her election wasn’t official until the entire House of Representatives met for the first day of session on January 3, 2019.

Lame Duck Session

The Lame Duck Session of the 115th Congress left Washington barely making a whimper. A lot of high drama took place the week before Christmas when the Congress and the President had a tug-of-war over the passage of another continuing resolution to fund those agencies that have yet to receive a permanent appropriation for FY 2019. Disagreement over the border wall funding issue derailed what many hoped was an agreement to fund those agencies until February 8, 2019.

Talks to resolve the funding issue are still at a standstill so 25% of the federal government is shut down, including the Department of the Interior. Government shutdowns are always disruptive both for those federal employees directly affected and for the American people who rely of certain government services. Garbage is piling up in National Parks throughout the country because the National Park Service is one of those agencies affected. The shutdown is gripping “official” Washington with little prospect of a quick fix. The House of Representatives will pass this week separate appropriations measure for the Department of the Interior, but we have little hope the measure will pass the Senate because of the President’s reluctance to sign individual appropriations measures without a resolution of the border issue. Until there is a resolution, we will all experience some inconvenience, but it is especially hard on those federal employees missing paychecks.

Snowmobiler, Gulkana Wild and Scenic River, BLM Alaska. Photo by Bob Wick, BLM.

Public Lands Omnibus Bill

As you know, for the last several months a public lands omnibus bill has been in the works. The plan was to pass it during the closing days of the Lame Duck Session. Well, it didn’t happen. The actual text of the 680-page bill wasn’t made public until December 19th. That’s when things began to unravel.

Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) wanted to offer an amendment that would exempt Utah from the Antiquities Act, meaning that it would no longer be a target for National Monument designations. Wyoming is the only state that currently enjoys this exemption. Senator Lee’s insistence that he be able to offer this amendment brought any notion of passing the omnibus to a grinding halt; much to the consternation of many members of the House and the Senate.

The joint House/Senate leadership has committed to bring up the omnibus in both chambers sometime early in the new session. What is unknown is whether the package will be adjusted to reflect the fact that the Democrats now control the House of Representatives. There are signals that this might not be the case, but we will just have to wait and see.

More than 100 bills were included in the package including S. 32, Senator Feinstein’s California Desert Protection and Recreation Act of 2017. We were very pleased with this development since the Senator’s legislation designates in California five specific off-highway recreation areas. We have been working with the Senator on this legislation for several years, and we are hopeful it be enacted into law during the early part of the 116th Congress.

The other development has to do with S. 2809/H. R. 5727, the Emery County Public Lands Management Act. As we have reported previously, we had serious reservations about certain aspects of this legislation and reluctantly ended up having to oppose it. At the eleventh hour, and after a lot of intense lobbying on the part of the OHV community, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Representative John Curtis (R-Utah) offered some clarifying language that provided the Secretary of the Interior with specific authority to reroute and/or repair motorized routes in the event they became unusable. If this language remains as a part of the Emery County legislation that is included in the next version of the omnibus, then we will no longer oppose its passage into law.

House of Representatives – Under New Management

Well, there is a new sheriff in town with the Democrats becoming the majority party in the House of Representatives. For House Republicans, this means they no longer set the agenda.

With this change in party control, all House committees will have new leadership. For the House Natural Resources Committee, this means that Rob Bishop (R-Utah), has stepped aside as Chairman and Raul Grijalva (D-Arizona) has taken his place. Reps. Bishop and Grijalva have worked together for many years, so they have a good personal relationship. But things will be different now. It will be Chairman Grijalva setting the agenda.

Given that Secretary Zinke has resigned from the Cabinet and Rep. Grijalva is the new committee Chairman, the idea of transferring the headquarters of the Bureau of Land Management somewhere out west could be sidetracked. While it is too early to tell, it will be something we will be watching closely in the coming days.

In the past, Rep. Grijalva hasn’t always been a supporter of the OHV community’s legislative agenda. In other words, we have our work cut for us. To be clear, Rep. Grijalva is a fair guy, but the burden will be on us to make our case. We will be asking you to help us as we maneuver our way through the House of Representatives now that it is under new management.

Happy 2019

Larry E. Smith
Executive Director
Americans for Responsible Recreational Access (ARRA)