With the House expected to vote as early as next week on the public lands omnibus, questions remain concerning the number of amendments that will be allowed and what the timeline is for final passage of the package. During today's OnPoint, Mike Matz, president of the Campaign for America's Wilderness, previews House action on the omnibus. He also reacts to Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman's (D-N.M.) push to include public land funding in the stimulus.
Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to the show. I'm Monica Trauzzi. With us today is Mike Matz, president of the Campaign for America's Wilderness. Mike, thanks for coming back on the show.
Mike Matz: Thank you for having me.
Monica Trauzzi: Mike, a vote on the public lands omnibus is expected to take place in the House next week. The package did face some hurdles however in the Senate. Senator Coburn had filibustered the measure. What are your expectations for how things may go in the House?
Mike Matz: We think that it will probably go about like it did in the Senate, which ultimately was passed, then 74 to 21, so a fairly resounding vote in support of the measure. It's got a lot of moving parts to it, 160 different provisions in it, including 16 that are wilderness bills, the first title of it. Generally, they all have very solid bipartisan support, so we hope to see the same kind of tally in the House next week.
Monica Trauzzi: Possible amendments coming down the pipeline that may delay the vote at all? I mean, what are you hearing?
Mike Matz: Yeah, it's unclear right now. They are going to bring it up under a rule apparently, so they could bring it up under a closed rule and just not allow amendments or they might allow one or two amendments for the minority, maybe something for the majority too to tweak it a little bit. If you get into that, then we have to go back to the Senate side and we have the Coburn conundrum again. So hopefully, we can see if this can't get through as is and then be sent to the president's desk.
Monica Trauzzi: Give our viewers a sense of some of the key issues that are being addressed through this bill.
Mike Matz: Well, as I mentioned, there are these 16 wilderness bills and they run the gamut. They go from Virginia's valleys and ridges down on the Jefferson National Forest all the way to Oregon's Mount Hood. All of them in between are iconic features. There's a whole lot of diversity with canyon lands, mountain escarpments, wonderful sagebrush plains. It's really an amazing package that's been assembled here with a whole variety of examples of our natural diversity.
Monica Trauzzi: Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Bingaman recently indicated that he intends to offer an amendment to the stimulus bill that would add more than $2.5 billion for public lands. Does that type of funding really belong in the stimulus though?
Mike Matz: It depends on what it's directed for. Certainly there are needs there. I mean in our documents that we provided to the transition team for their consideration we wholeheartedly endorsed the notion of putting more money, more capital expenditures into our national parks for instance because roads and facilities have really needed it over the last decade or so. So, I think these kinds of infrastructure investments are a good thing and do, in fact, stimulate the economy, do provide jobs, do get contractors out resurfacing roads or upgrading facilities. So those are good things and I think that they're necessary. Either they can happen in this stimulus or through the appropriations process, but they should be done.
Monica Trauzzi: The public lands omnibus was one of the first bills that the Senate took up this year. What do you think that says about the public lands discussion and how it may differ from the Bush years and what is Ken Salazar going to bring to the table here?
Mike Matz: All good questions. I think it's an indication of the broad base of support for this kind of a measure that it was brought up this early. I mean this will be in both the Senate and the House. The first major conservation vote of the 111th Congress and the fact that it is coming so early, before even some of the other items that have been on the agenda, I think bodes well for the accomplishments in this Congress in this arena. Senator Ken Salazar, when it Senator Ken Salazar, when he was still a senator, was actually very active in making sure that the Senate took it up this early. And now, as interior secretary, we're actually looking forward, very much forward to working with him on these kinds of issues.
Monica Trauzzi: Doc Hastings, he's the newly appointed ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, his predecessor, Congressman Young, was often at battle with environmentalists as. How are you expecting things to shift? Will they shift? What are your expectations?
Mike Matz: Well, Don Young actually is very, very supportive of the omnibus package and will vote in favor of it and has been trying to rally Republican support for it. Doc Hastings I think has, at this point, because of his new position on the committee, not yet come out and said whether he is going to support it or not. But he does have three bills, three provisions in this omnibus. So I would think that he would want to try to see this thing move along through the process.
Monica Trauzzi: Beyond the omnibus, what are the key things your group is going to be focusing on for the remainder of the year with this new Democratic majority, new Democratic president in office?
Mike Matz: It's a very exciting times to tell you the truth. I mean we have always operated in a very bipartisan manner. We've always worked closely with county commissioners and city councils and had this groundswell of support burble up from the local areas. But now I think after we get this omnibus package to the president's desk for his signature we've got another slate of wilderness bills that have been kind of held in abeyance until this one is accomplished, is achieved. We're looking forward to working with the committees on both the House and the Senate side in order to move several of those wilderness bills in the coming months.
Monica Trauzzi: Any sense that some of these bills may need to be stalled a bit because of other issues that Congress will be taking up, including the economy?
Mike Matz: There's no doubt that there is a priority on the economy and on energy. Those are, I think, two of the biggest issues of the day. I think though that we can juggle more than one or two balls at a time. I think that we'll be able to take a look at these issues as well as focus on some of the higher priorities.
Monica Trauzzi: Final question here. Switching gears to the larger omnibus bill whose vote is being delayed by a couple of weeks, some environmentalists are hoping that this bill will address offshore drilling and will reverse the decision that was made on the moratorium last year. The provisions are still under wraps at this point. Have you heard anything about whether that may be addressed?
Mike Matz: I haven't. I think that the last go around, when that moratorium was lifted was done really in the heat of the battle, really kind of hastily based on the conditions at the time. I think if we have a longer-term view point here, it's pretty clear that we're going to have to try to shift the energy economy away from fossil fuels, away from non-renewable resources and get it more on a path towards our own independence here, which in general means, yes, tapping into some of our reserves in this country, but also putting a great deal of emphasis on renewables, like solar and wind power. I think if we can focus on those and have more of a balance, then going into some of these special places is unwarranted and probably not necessary.
Monica Trauzzi: OK, we'll end it right there on that note. Thanks for coming on the show.
Mike Matz: Thank you, Monica.
Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.
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