Well, the much talked about Omnibus Public Lands legislation, S. 47, is now a done deal. The Senate passed the measure on February 11th on a vote of 87-7. Then on February 26th, the House approved the legislation by a vote of 363-62. Because the two chambers approved the exact same 700-page bill, the need for a conference committee to work out the differences was avoided. Instead, the measure goes directly to the President’s desk for his signature.
Is the measure perfect? No, not by a long shot. There is stuff in it that we aren’t happy about, especially the Emery County Public Land Management Act. We fear that after the dust settles and the Bureau of Land Management begins to implement this Act, OHV recreation in Emery County could potentially take a hard hit. Despite assurances from the chief sponsor that everything will be all right, the devil is in the details and we are nervous that there will be a lot of closures of favorite OHV routes, and when that happens, it’s too late.
On the other hand, there is something in the omnibus that had our strong support and that is Senator Feinstein’s California Desert Protection and Recreation Act, legislation that specifically designates five important OHV recreation areas in California. So, you mix the good with the bad and what comes out is a bill that can pass both chambers. That’s why S. 47 made it across the finish line.
The current interim Secretary of the Interior, David Bernhardt, who served as the Deputy Secretary under former Secretary Ryan Zinke, was awarded the brass ring when the President announced that he intended to nominate Bernhardt for the top post at the agency. He will bring to the job a wealth of experience at the Interior Department.
Previously, he served as Deputy Chief of Staff and Counsellor to Gayle Norton when she was the Interior Secretary. He later served as the agency’s Director of Congressional and Legislative Affairs and then as Solicitor from 2006-2009, the top legal job for the department. In 2018, he became the Deputy Secretary. In other words, he knows the agency in and out and he is a westerner to boot. He grew up in Rifle, Colorado, a ranching community in western Colorado.
During the last two years, the Interior Department has focused on the importance of recreation on public lands. OHV recreation has been a beneficiary of this positive attitude. We believe that David Bernhardt will continue this trend and we are supportive of his nomination.
In our last newsletter, we mentioned that another government shutdown was looming, but we also said that we did not think it would come to pass. The previous 35-day shutdown was painful enough so when the second one posed a potential safety threat to air travel, the chance of another shutdown evaporated. We are pleased that the Interior Department and the Forest Service have full funding for the rest of this fiscal year.
The maintenance backlog problem for our public lands agencies is not going away. In the House, Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) has introduced H. R. 1225, legislation that would address the maintenance backlog for all federal lands’ agencies. To date, 111 of his colleagues have co-sponsored the legislation. Over in the Senate, Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) introduced similar legislation though it would only focus on the maintenance backlog for the National Park Service. To date, a bi-partisan group of 29 senators have co-sponsored the Portman legislation. Both bills would tackle the maintenance backlog by using tax revenue generated by off-shore energy production to finance a legacy fund. Such a funding mechanism is urgently needed. It still early in the legislative session, but we are encouraged by the large number of co-sponsors that have already signed onto the legislation.
Just a brief heads-up that next month we will be furnishing you with information on how you can nominate your favorite project underwritten with funds from the Recreational Trails Program (RTP) for special recognition by the Coalition of Recreational Trails (CRT), a network of organizations who strongly support RTP. ARRA is a member of that group.
Each year the winners of the RTP awards are invited to a reception on Capitol Hill to showcase the good work they have done with RTP funds and to receive an award recognizing their efforts. Stay tuned for more information in the March newsletter. In the meantime, start making a list of those projects you think deserve recognition by the CRT.
Speaking of the Recreational Trails Program, legislation will soon be introduced that would authorize the U. S. Department of Transportation to conduct a study to gain a more accurate accounting on how much excise tax revenue is paid for fuel used in OHVs. The information currently used by the Department in determining the size of the RTP fund is woefully outdated and needs updating. Introduction is expected soon, and we will furnish you the bill # once it is known. We plan to launch an ARRA alert to garner support for the legislation.
Larry E. Smith
Americans for Responsible Recreational Access (ARRA)
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