Omnibus Land Bill Fails in House: 2 Million Acres of Wilderness Left Unprotected

land bill fail house 2 million acres photo

Photo via Buster Wants to Fish

A bill designed to protect 2 million acres of American wilderness--which would be the greatest expansion of the Wilderness Preservation Act in 15 years--passed the Senate last January with relatively little trouble. The bill was on a fast track to sail through the House for easy passage when it was introduced there yesterday. Instead, it came up a scant two votes short, and thus left 2 million acres of pristine wilderness unprotected—for the time being.The Land Bill's Surprising Defeat
The conservation bill needed a two thirds majority to pass since it was being pushed through under a fast track "suspension" of House rules, according to the Washington Post. And the final vote count was 282 yes to 144 no—a mere two votes shy of passing. The bill's defeat shocked Congressional leaders, who had imposed the fast track rules due to a certainty that it would pass. And now, their error in judgment could cause the bill to languish indefinitely.

Being a complex Omnibus Bill—that is, a sort of 'bill of bills' that combined 170 bills by legislators from different sates—it will have to be brought to the floor under special suspension rules again. Otherwise, it would stand to be picked apart and tied up in procedural motions. Congressional leaders say they have no idea when they'll bring it to vote again, or what changes will have to be made to the bill.

It's rather stunning that this bipartisan land conservation bill has failed, as it would have protected vulnerable, pristine lands in both red and blue states: Utah, Oregon, Virginia, and California were all among states that would've seen its land safeguarded.

Why the Omnibus Failed
So why did it fail? Combined with leaders being unprepared to face a tough vote, it seems it met major Republican resistance: (from WaPo)

Republicans argued that it would cost too much to implement and would stand in the way of needed energy development . . . "At a time when we need jobs and we need energy independence, it's the wrong time to be tying up too much land," said Rep. Jason Chaffetz (Utah)

To get a sense of the fine wilderness areas that are now going unprotected, take this virtual Omnibus road trip.

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