This was a vote on passage of H.R. 146, the Public Land Management Act of 2009. This Act combined into one measure more than 160 proposals designating millions of acres of new wildernesses, wild and scenic rivers, hiking trails, heritage areas, water projects, and historic preservation initiatives.
Rep. Rahall (D-WV), who led the support for the bill, described it as “landmark legislation (that) combines measures that will strengthen the National Park System, restore our national forests, preserve our wild and scenic rivers, protect our sacred battlefields, and restore balance to the management of our public lands . . . after nearly a decade during which responsible stewardship was abandoned . . . .” Rahall said the bill “will preserve pristine wilderness . . . protect our national monuments and conservation areas, conserve our free-flowing rivers, establish new park units, guarantee abundant clean water for thousands of families, and more.”
Responding to arguments made by Republican members against the Act, he said “we were told that this package costs a great deal of money. The Congressional Budget Office has made it clear; it does not. We were told that this is a big federal land grab; but Members now understand that this package contains no condemnation nor taking of land of any kind. We were told this package contained a provision that would put children in jail for collecting fossils. We know now that only large commercial companies who take public resources and sell them for private profit will be penalized.”
Rep. Hastings (R-WA), who was leading the opposition to the bill, first said “it contains several meritorious separate pieces of legislation, and three parts of this omnibus bill are mine, I might add, (but) the negatives in this bill and the failure to consider it under regular order of any kind of open, inclusive process outweigh any reason, in my mind, to go forward.”
Hastings also argued that the bill blocks “American-made energy production, locking away hundreds of millions of barrels of oil and trillions of cubic feet of natural gas. More than 3 million acres of public land are permanently locked away from energy development.” He went on to say the Act “has many other problems. It could--and I say ‘could’-- result in a ban on the use of vehicles and other technology to patrol the U.S. border. It bans recreational access to millions of acres of public lands. Even worse, it denies those dependent on wheelchairs, including disabled veterans, from fully enjoying public lands like everyone else. It . . . even hurts civil liberties . . . we received a letter from a coalition of civil rights groups . . . who have grave concerns. And I will quote, ‘The bill creates many new federal crimes using language that is so broad that the provisions could cover innocent human error.’''
Rep. Rahall responded “to some of the gentlemen on the other side of the aisle (M)any of you are in the enviable position, I guess, of protesting against this bill--perhaps voting against it--yet still getting (specific projects) you want. I guess being in the minority sometimes has its advantages. . . .”
The legislation passed on a vote of 285-140. Two hundred and forty-seven Democrats and thirty-eight Republicans voted “aye”. One hundred and thirty-six Republicans and four Democrats voted “nay”. As a result the House approved, and sent to the President for his signing into law, legislation adding millions of acres of wilderness, rivers and public lands and sites to federal control.