Congress May Approve Major Lands Bill in November

November 12, 2008

 Maybe they will. Maybe they won't.

It's possible that the US Congress will give final approval during its lame duck session to an omnibus bill that contains more than 150 individual bills targeted at protecting, improving, or revising management of various public lands all over the country. If it's approved, there will immediately be hundreds of local stories.

The lands and issues addressed in the bill include national parks, wilderness areas, wildlife refuges, wild and scenic rivers, national trails, national recreation areas, historic sites and programs, management of water, wildlife, and other natural resources, land exchanges, various feasibility studies, hunting, and wildland firefighter safety.

None of the individual bills are expected to be dropped, though about a dozen have been modified slightly in the past few months, and one or more bills might be added.

If this makes it onto the agenda, it would be considered in the Senate during the period running from Nov. 17 to possibly Nov. 25 or so. The House would also need to be in session, which is uncertain at this time, and give its final approval.

The final package has been hammered out over a long period of time, and the modest changes expected to occur in the Senate aren't expected to be major stumbling blocks in the House if the Senate can send it back for final consideration.

However, a number of obstacles remain. The Senate has economic issues on the top of its lame duck agenda, and if time runs out before Thanksgiving, the omnibus lands bill won't get considered. Even if time is available, efforts to approve the bill could be thwarted by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), who has concerns about many of the individual bills, or by others. And President Bush would need to approve the final bill.

If both houses don't approve the bill in November, it likely won't make it onto the agenda until the middle of 2009 at the earliest. It likely would take a back seat to the economy, the budget, confirmation hearings, Iraq, and other issues.