ENR panel to mark up roughly 30 bills promoting wilderness, O&G

Posted: May 15, 2013

Written by

Phil Taylor, E&E Daily

A Senate committee Thursday will seek to advance roughly 30 lands bills, including measures to designate wilderness in Nevada and New Mexico, swap tens of thousands of acres of gas-rich lands in Utah, and designate a national historic park in Rhode Island.

The Energy and Natural Resources Committee will also consider measures to promote geothermal development on public lands, extend the life of a federal helium reserve and expand off-highway vehicle access at a North Carolina seashore.

Most of the bills on Thursday's docket are noncontroversial.

Some may be passed en bloc by unanimous consent, an attempt to "clear the deck" of lands bills to ready them for Senate passage, said Robert Dillon, spokesman for Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the committee's ranking member.

Two Murkowski bills -- S. 156, to allow Native Alaskans to continue traditional gull egg collections in Glacier Bay National Park, and S. 155, to rename Mount McKinley as Mount Denali, as it is locally known -- are on the agenda.

But some bills may encounter some resistance, including S. 486, by North Carolina Sens. Richard Burr (R) and Kay Hagan (D). The measure would overturn a National Park Service plan to safeguard federally protected piping plovers and sea turtles at Cape Hatteras National Seashore in North Carolina from motorized vehicles.

Peggy O'Dell, deputy director for operations at NPS, told the Subcommittee on National Parks last month the agency "strongly opposes" the measure. Wildlife populations have improved since the agency's off-highway vehicle management plan was implemented last year, and visitor bureaus in North Carolina have reported increased meal and occupancy revenues for tourism in the area, she said. Kristen Brengel, director of legislative and government affairs for the National Parks Conservation Association, said the group is "very frustrated" the bill is on Thursday's docket.

But Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) supported the bill, accusing NPS of closing the "most premium places" in the seashore.

A House version of the bill sponsored by Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) passed the chamber last year as part of a larger public lands package, but the measure stalled in the Senate.

The panel is also scheduled to vote on two wilderness bills strongly supported by conservation groups.

S. 241 by Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) would largely codify the protection put in place by President Obama in March when he designated the 243,000-acre Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in northern New Mexico.

Heinrich's bill, which was yanked from an earlier ENR markup before the area became a monument, would designate about 214,600 acres managed by the Bureau of Land Management in Taos and Río Arriba counties as a national conservation area, and more than 20,000 additional acres as wilderness -- a higher standard than what Obama declared in the monument.

An earlier version of the bill passed the committee last Congress.

S. 342, by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), would designate 26,000 acres of wilderness in the Pine Forest Range in northwest Nevada. The Bureau of Land Management last month told the committee it supports the bill, calling the arid Great Basin range "a rare and exceptional area of abundant streams and clear, cold subalpine lakes."

Other bills on Thursday's docket include:

S. 27, by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), to authorize a land swap that would protect the cultural rights of the Ute Tribe in eastern Utah and allow expanded access for oil and gas drilling. A House version of the bill is scheduled for a vote on the chamber floor Wednesday (see related story).

S. 28, by Hatch, to provide for the conveyance of a small parcel of National Forest System land in the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest in Utah to Brigham Young University.

S. 59, by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), to designate a Distinguished Flying Cross National Memorial at the March Field Air Museum in Riverside, Calif.

S. 211, by Hatch, to amend certain definitions contained in the Provo River Project Transfer Act for purposes of clarifying certain property descriptions.

S. 225, by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), to authorize the Interior secretary to conduct a study of alternatives for commemorating and interpreting the role of the Buffalo Soldiers in the early years of the national parks.

S. 256, by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), to amend Public Law 93-435 with respect to the Northern Mariana Islands, providing parity with Guam, the Virgin Islands and American Samoa.

S. 284, by Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), to transfer certain facilities, easements and rights of way to Fort Sumner Irrigation District in New Mexico.

S. 305, by Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), to authorize the acquisition of core battlefield land at Champion Hill, Port Gibson and Raymond, Miss., for addition to Vicksburg National Military Park.

S. 312, by Udall, to adjust the boundary of the Carson National Forest in New Mexico.

S. 349, by Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), to amend the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act to designate a segment of the Beaver, Chipuxet, Queen, Wood and Pawcatuck rivers in Connecticut and Rhode Island for study for potential addition to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers system.

S. 363, by Wyden, to expand geothermal production.

S. 368, by Heinrich, to reauthorize the Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act.

S. 371, by Reed, to establish the Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park and dedicate the park to John Chafee.

S. 447, by Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), to provide for the conveyance of certain cemeteries that are located on National Forest System land in Black Hills National Forest in South Dakota.

S. 476, by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), to amend the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Development Act to extend to the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park Commission.

S. 507, by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), to establish the Manhattan Project National Historical Park in Oak Ridge, Tenn.; Los Alamos, N.M.; and Hanford, Wash.

S. 609, by Udall, to authorize the Interior secretary to convey certain federal land in San Juan County, N.M.

S. 659, by Wyden, to reauthorize the Reclamation States Emergency Drought Relief Act of 1991.

S. 684, by Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), to amend the Mni Wiconi Project Act of 1988 to facilitate completion of the Mni Wiconi Rural Water Supply System.

S. 693, by Wyden, to amend the Reclamation Wastewater and Groundwater Study and Facilities Act to authorize the Interior secretary to participate in the Hermiston, Ore., water recycling and reuse project.

S. 736, by Murkowski, to establish a maximum amount for special use permit fees applicable to certain cabins on National Forest System land in Alaska.

S. 757, by Heller, to provide for the implementation of the multispecies habitat conservation plan for the Virgin River and Lincoln County, Nev., to extend the authority to purchase certain parcels of public land.

S. 783, by Wyden, to amend the Helium Act to improve helium stewardship.

S.J.RES. 12, by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), a joint resolution to consent to certain amendments enacted by the Hawaii Legislature to the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act of 1920.

H.R. 316, by Rep. Elizabeth Esty (D-Conn.), to reinstate and transfer certain hydroelectric licenses and extend the deadline for commencement of construction of certain hydroelectric projects.

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