Obama signs far-reaching public lands bill

Calling it an "extraordinary piece of legislation," US President Barack H. Obama signed a far-reaching public lands bill into law on Mar. 30.

Nick Snow
OGJ Washington Editor
WASHINGTON, DC, Mar. 31 -- Calling it an "extraordinary piece of legislation," US President Barack H. Obama signed a far-reaching public lands bill into law on Mar. 30.

The measure, HR 146, won bipartisan support because it combined 160 smaller bills involving historic sites with provisions that add 2 million acres to the federal wilderness system. The bill also expands other designations that effectively remove more federal acreage not just from oil and gas leasing but also potential use as alternative energy generation sites.

"This legislation guarantees that we will not take our forests, rivers, oceans, national parks, monuments, and wilderness areas for granted, but rather we will set them aside and guard their sanctity for everyone to share. That's something all Americans can support," Obama said.

US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar called the bill "a Herculean first step in President Obama's agenda for our open lands."

In addition to the 2 million acres of new federal wilderness, he said that it would put into law the 26 million-acre National Landscape Conservation System within the US Bureau of Land Management, preserve 1,000 new miles of wild and scenic rivers, and "better protect some of America's most special places, from Oregon's Mount Hood to the dinosaur tracks of New Mexico to Virginia's wild forests."

US Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), who helped guide the legislative package through the Senate twice, called it "a great day for America's natural resources. With just the stroke of a pen, the president made a promise to future generations come true by helping preserve the natural wonders of this nation."

Lisa Murkowski (R-Alas.), the committee's ranking minority member, said the legislation was "a good example of how we in Congress can find success through hard work and bipartisanship." The package of bills "is hugely beneficial to individual communities, especially in western states where the federal government owns so much of the land," she maintained.

The bill's provisions include an amendment to the Alaska Natural Gas Pipeline Act authorizing the federal coordinator to establish fees which could be spent without further congressional appropriation for activities authorized under current law, she noted.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said the bill includes water-related provisions which would help manage drought, particularly in the US West; improve aging infrastructure; recharge groundwater supplies and promote the re-use and recycling of water.

"Today is a great day for all who care about our beautiful country and its pristine natural heritage," she said.

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