Fulfilling our civic duty by going to the polls is an important responsibility of our American citizenship. Election Day is this coming Tuesday, November 6th. Do your part by voting. And if you have small children, take them to the voting booth with you. Show them what it means to vote! They are never too young for this civics lesson.
Public Lands Legislation
Before the Senate left Washington so that Senators up for re-election could hit the campaign trail, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a business meeting and approved more than 40 bills having to do with federal public lands. All of this is a prelude to an effort to pull together an omnibus public lands package that would be brought up for consideration in the House and the Senate during the lame-duck session.
Among the various bills reported out of the committee, three bills were of particular interest to us:
- S.32, the California Desert Protection and Recreation Act of 2017. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) in 2016 committed to the OHV community that she would introduce legislation that would create a congressional designated OHV recreation area in the California Desert. In addition to protecting five off-highway recreation areas totaling 142,000 acres, her legislation also designates wilderness areas, releases some specific wilderness study areas, and creates some renewable energy production areas in the California desert. Rep. Paul Cook (R-CA) introduced companion legislation in the House, H. R. 857, and that measure has already passed the House. We are very pleased that this measure has made it out of committee and we are working towards its passage when the omnibus public lands package is offered sometime in the November/December timeframe.
- S.3172, Restore Our Parks Act. Introduced by Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio), this measure would utilize a portion of revenue from energy production on federal lands and waterways towards paying for the huge maintenance backlog for the National Park Service. We believe this legislation has merit though we wished it also addressed the maintenance backlog for the other federal land agencies. The House of Representatives has already passed similar legislation (H. R. 6510) but that legislation not only covers the National Park Service but also the Bureau of Land Management, and the Fish and Wildlife Service. We hope that when these two bills are reconciled in conference, the comprehensive approach taken by the House passed bill will prevail.
- S.2809, the Emery County (Utah) Public Lands Management Act. This legislation, introduced by Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), was reported out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee with even more restrictive OHV language than was contained in the House version of the bill. (We reported on the House companion bill, H. R. 5727 in our October newsletter.) We have major concerns about this legislation.
In a nutshell, the legislation places severe restrictions on any new roads/trails within the San Rafael Swell Recreation Area. Under the terms of the Senate bill, the Bureau of Land Management would be further restricted from building “permanent and temporary” roads. We feel this ties the hands of the federal land managers.
ARRA, along with the other national OHV organizations, is actively working this issue on Capitol Hill in conjunction with local OHV organizations in Utah. This is a difficult problem and the time pressures in resolving the problematic issues is intense given the fact that Senator Hatch is very anxious to get his bill enacted into law during the lame-duck session. Senator Hatch is retiring at the end of this session so from his perspective, it’s now or never in terms of this legislation.
Local OHV organizations in Utah are waging a strong grassroots campaign to get their issues heard and resolved by the Utah congressional delegation. ARRA will continue to be supportive of their efforts.
October 11th was an important day for Vicki Christiansen, the Interim Chief of the U. S. Forest Service because on that day she was sworn in as the new Chief of the agency. Christiansen has been serving as the Interim Chief since March of this year. She has been with the Forest Service since 2010 and prior to that she served as the Arizona State Forester and Director of the Arizona Division of Forestry.
The National Park Service seems to be on the verge of finally getting a new Director. Raymond David Vela’s nomination as Director will receive a Senate hearing on November 15th. Vela is a 28-year veteran with the Park Service. Prior to his nomination, he served as Director of the Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. If his nomination is reported out of the committee, we are assuming that will be the case, we anticipate that Mr. Vela’s nomination will be confirmed by the full Senate sometime during the lame-duck session. If for some reason that were not to occur, the President would need to resubmit Mr. Vela’s nomination to the Senate after the 116th Congress convenes in January, 2019.
In just a few more days, we will all know the results of the 2018 midterm elections. After the dust settles, members of the House and the Senate will return to Washington to complete unfinished business. For those members defeated at the polls, it will be a bittersweet moment since they will be limping back to the Nation’s Capital after having been clobbered in the elections; hence the reference to lame-duck.
Historically, we have found lame-duck sessions generally non-productive. If there is a shift in majority control of either the House or the Senate, the leadership of the incoming majority will want to defer as much as possible any action on major legislation until they take the reins of leadership. And for the defeated members, their heart just isn’t in it. They are more interested in packing up their belongings and focusing on the next chapter of their lives.
Having said that, there are a number of appropriations measures requiring final action since the existing continuing resolution expires on December 7th. As we mentioned in last month’s newsletter, the Department of the Interior is one of those federal agencies still awaiting final appropriations for FY 2019. And, there are all those public lands bills we have been talking about. Staffers from the Senate/House Natural Resources Committees are already having informal conversations about the makeup of an omnibus public lands measure. So, some things need to be done, but we are keeping our expectations low. More on all of this in the December newsletter.
Larry E. Smith
Americans for Responsible Recreational Access