"I stand in firm opposition to this package, the contents of which are still uncertain," said Inhofe, the Environment and Public Works Committee's ranking member. Inhofe cited concerns over costs and the potential expansion of U.S. EPA authority in the most controversial of the waterways bills, aimed at cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay.
Inhofe said he was willing to work with colleagues to advance individual resources bills, but he promised to place a "hold" on any package "to ensure the American people have more time to understand the policy, regulatory and fiscal impacts of these bills."
The committee's chairwoman, Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), has pushed for the package and was among 10 or so Democrats who met with Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Monday evening. The group convinced Reid to combine more than 100 bills that have emerged from Boxer's committee and the Energy and Natural Resources Committee for passage during the lame-duck session (E&E Daily, Dec. 1).
In that package are proposals aimed at protecting 2 million acres in 13 states and boosting restoration efforts for the Chesapeake Bay, Lake Tahoe, the San Francisco Bay, the Columbia River, Puget Sound, the Great Lakes, the Gulf of Mexico and Long Island Sound.
Inhofe spotlighted his concerns over the Chesapeake Bay bill sponsored by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) that would give EPA the legislative power it needs to shepherd President Obama's bay-restoration initiative. Inhofe negotiated significant changes to that bill before he and fellow Republicans voted to pass the legislation and other waterways bills out of the environment committee in June.
Farmers remain vehemently opposed to the bay legislation, which they say arms EPA with precedent-setting power to crack down on fertilizer and animal-waste runoff.
Inhofe said that bill "still needs significant changes, principally with respect to restricting the broad, and unprecedented, scope of authority it grants EPA over state permitting programs." He invited Cardin to work with him on a compromise that he warned would be out of reach "if this bill is thrown together with other bills."
Democrats were still expressing hope today that they might recruit Republican support to move the resource package through the Senate and over to the House before the lame duck ends later this month.
A House Democratic leadership aide expressed hope today that the Senate could pass the package. "We have sent the Senate over 100 land and water bills and are talking to them about these efforts to get the bills done," the aide said in an e-mail today.
Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources National Parks Subcommittee, which passed many of the lands bills, said he hoped the bill would pass.
"There's a lot of hard work that would go wasting if we can't put an omnibus lands package together," Udall said. "I'd really hate to see us adjourn without moving the legislation."