Friday, December 17, 2010

Reid files water, lands, wildlife omnibus in eleventh-hour push for environmental victory

Paul Quinlan, E&E reporter
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) filed omnibus legislation today containing 110 bills aimed at improving and protecting public lands, waterways, ocean resources and wildlife -- which Republican leaders have already threatened to block.
"I want to get this package done before Congress adjourns," Reid said. "I sincerely hope that the delays and obstruction we are seeing from my Republican colleagues will not prevent us from taking up this critical legislation."
Advocates say the bill represents a rare opportunity for an environmental legislative victory in the closing days of a Congress better known for major defeats on climate change and oil spill legislation.
"This bill has just gone from life support to hyperventilating," said Joshua Saks, senior legislative representative for water resources campaigns at the National Wildlife Federation. "This could be one of the most enduring actions of the 111th Congress."
Called the "America's Great Outdoors Act of 2010," the bill includes bipartisan measures that would designate new wilderness areas in three states; add 4,600 miles to the national trail system; preserve battlefield sites; protect marine turtles, sharks and great cats; and restore water bodies like Lake Tahoe, the Columbia River and the Long Island Sound, according to a news release. The bill would also slow the decline in the world's shark populations and permanently authorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
The bill combines measures from four Senate committees: the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, the Environment and Public Works Committee, the Commerce Committee and the Indian Affairs Committee. Half of the bills have passed the House with broad support, according to Reid's statement.
Reid defended the bill against recent Republican attacks that the planned measure would amount to a "Frankenstein omnibus," in the words of Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), cobbled together behind closed doors. Reid's statement said that Republicans for the past six years have "intentionally and methodically obstructed normal consideration of these bills," forcing them to be packaged into massive measures that could attract the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster.
It's unclear when the Senate will take up the measure or if time enough remains before Congress adjourns. Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin (D) said this week that the bill had enough Republican support to get 60 votes. Oklahoma Republicans Jim Inhofe and Tom Coburn have both threatened to block the bill, citing concerns about its size and cost and, at the time, uncertain contents.
"There is nothing divisive about protecting historic battlefields, improving our most critical water sources, or making sure that our best wildlife habitat remains wild and healthy," Reid said. "These are things that people in Nevada and across America want, and they expect us to work together to achieve them."
Reporter Phil Taylor contributed.

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