Fighting the omnibus public lands bill

As early as this afternoon, U.S. Senator Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) will begin offering amendments to the omnibus public lands bill, H.R. 146.  If the majority attempts to block his right to offer amendments, Dr. Coburn has indicated that he will use all parliamentary tools at his disposal to protect his rights.     

Dr. Coburn said on the floor last night,  "I will do everything in my power as an individual Senator to stop it, slow it down, so that the American people will know every aspect of what is in this bill.   It’s over 2,000 pages.  There has never been one amendment, never been one amendment allowed on the Senate floor to alter this bill.   And so I look forward to a debate I plan on using every tool, every tool, that I can to delay and obstruct this piece of legislation, because it’s not in the best interest, long-term interest of our country.  The question you ought to ask your senator is: even though you get something for us, is this really a good deal for us? " 

Dr. Coburn’s key policy and process concerns :    1)   The omnibus lands package is an   anti-stimulus" that will erect new barriers to energy exploration and squander billions  of taxpayer dollars on low-priority parochial programs and frivolous earmarks.    2)   The bill is another direct challenge from Congress to President Obama  pledge to clean up the earmark process.  Last week, President Obama pledged to eliminate earmarks that did not serve a legitimate public purpose.  He also said that each earmark must be scrutinized at public hearings.   None of the individual earmarks in the bill were subject to public hearings nor would many Americans describe earmarks like a $3.5 million birthday bash for St. Augustine, Florida a legitimate public purpose.   3)   The omnibus lands bill should be subject to a full and open amendment process.  For months, Senate Majority Leader Reid has argued that the bill is  "non-controversial" and should pass by a voice vote with no amendments and no recorded roll call vote. 

Yet, last week, 144 members of the House voted against the bill because it needs major revisions.   More than 100 organizations ranging from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to the National Wildlife Refuge Association have expressed their opposition to this package.   Click here for a coalition letter expressing concerns from groups on the left and right.    

Energy concerns :   The bill  blocks the development of both renewable and oil and gas  energy resources.  One bill in the package locks up at least 8.8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and more 300 million barrels of oil in a single field, which is equal to nearly   twice   as much natural gas as all American homes use in a year.    The bill includes 92 National Wild and Scenic River designations covering 1,100 miles that will prohibit any pipeline or transmission crossing.    In 19 cases, the bill permanently withdraws federal lands from future mineral and geothermal leasing.    Since the Senate last considered the lands bill, Secretary Salazar has withdrawn major energy leases in Utah (77) and Wyoming (8) that were the subject of a coordinated lawsuit brought by extreme anti-energy groups. Secretary Salazar specifically delayed offshore drilling and the development of oil shale.     

Examples of wasteful spending and egregious earmarks :     An estimated $1 billion for a water project in California for the restoration of 500 salmon.     $3.5 million to celebrate the 450th Anniversary of St Augustine, Florida in 2015.     $250,000 for the Park Service to study whether Alexander Hamilton  boyhood estate at St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands is suitable for designation as a new National Park unit.    $5 million for the National Tropical Botanical Garden to operate and maintain gardens in Hawaii and Florida.     "A new ocean exploration program that is tasked with conducting  scientific voyages to locate, define, and document historic shipwrecks."      Dr. Coburn has filed the following amendments to the bill:       1.   Bar new construction (not including necessary replacement construction) until all current sites are certified by the Secretary as fully operational, ensuring full access by the public, and posing no health or safety threat.  The National Park Service is currently facing a $10 billion maintenance backlog.      2.   Strike all provisions restricting renewable energy development on public lands.    3.   Strike out frivolous waste in the bill (St. Augustine birthday party; botanical gardens in Hawaii and Florida; California salmon restoration; Alexander Hamilton  boyhood estate in the Virgin Islands; and shipwreck exploration program).      4.   Require annual report detailing total size and cost of federal property.    5.   Prohibit the use of eminent domain for any provision authorized in the bill.      6.   Clarify Section Subtitle D to protect park visitors and scientists from criminal penalties for taking stones that may contain insignificant fossils.     

For additional background on the lands bill with Dr. Coburn  amendment text click here.