E&E News: Murkowski plots making sure lands package becomes law

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski wants to make sure the public lands package the upper chamber is poised to take up this week attracts "strong support" from her colleagues to boost its momentum as it heads to the House.

That means not straying far from the agreement that bicameral negotiators finalized late last year before the package fell apart in the Senate just before Christmas over Republican objections.

"We really want to be conscientious about sticking to the agreement making sure that the jurisdiction is limited to ENR," said the Alaska Republican late last week.

"Believe me, there's a lot of people who are looking and saying, 'Well, I've got this one little thing that comes from Indian Affairs or [Agriculture],' and we're just not going to go there," she said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) filed a motion last Thursday to proceed on the package, and the chamber is likely to take up the measure between tomorrow and Thursday (Greenwire, Jan. 31).

The Senate is scheduled to be in session all week, but the chamber must first finish consideration of S. 1, the "Strengthening America's Security in the Middle East Act of 2019," before it moves on to S. 47, the lands deal.

The package contains a permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a section enhancing and increasing public land access for hunters and fishers, language improving outdoor recreation access, and more than 100 smaller bills related to land conveyances, exchanges and conservation projects.

Dozens of hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation groups sent McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) a letter Friday urging the bill's consideration.

"The momentum and support for this package remains widespread across a variety of public lands stakeholders, and urgent consideration of the package in the new Congress is well warranted," wrote the organizations, which included Ducks Unlimited, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

"It is thoroughly bipartisan in nature and broad in scope, and passage of this package would be a historical step forward for public lands and conservation," the groups said.

The legislation has robust, bipartisan support among congressional Republicans and Democrats, but its path has been complicated.

Senators last week said leaders were "hotlining" the bill to assess whether there would be objections. McConnell's decision to file cloture indicates that at least one senator did, forcing an additional procedural vote to get on the bill for debate.

Murkowski said there would be a manager's amendment to the package, which also necessitates the extra legislative maneuvering.

Other possible amendments to the legislation are "still part of the discussion," she said.

If other amendments are allowed, it's not clear whether Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), who blocked a vote on the package last year, will offer any.

Lee complained in December of not seeing the 680-page package until the last minute and objected to past use of the LWCF to acquire more federal land.

At the time, the Utah senator offered to waive his objections if Murkowski would accept the addition of language to the Antiquities Act that would require congressional approval of new land designations in Utah. Those exemptions exist under the law for Alaska and Wyoming.

"We have communicated our concerns about the bill to those who are writing it," Lee spokesman Conn Carroll said last week in an email.

Lee's fellow Republican Utahan, freshman Sen. Mitt Romney, said last Thursday that he "very much" supported the public lands package.

Romney and Lee are co-sponsors of legislation that would prevent the president from designating national monuments in Utah without the approval of Congress and the state Legislature (E&E Daily, Jan. 11).

By:  Kellie Lunney and Geof Koss
Source: E&E News