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Westerman Testifies on Partisan Federal Lands Legislation

WASHINGTON, D.C., February 23, 2021 - Today, House Committee on Natural Resources Ranking Member Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) testified before the House Committee on Rules on H.R. 803, the Protecting America’s Wilderness and Public Lands Act.

Westerman’s full remarks, as prepared:
“Chairman McGovern, Ranking Member Cole, and members of the committee, I appreciate you holding this hearing. The Protecting America’s Wilderness and Public Lands Act is an unbalanced, partisan package of eight public lands bills that has not gone through regular order and lacks the consensus needed for legislation of this magnitude.

“This bill creates nearly 1.5 million acres of new wilderness, withdraws 1.2 million acres from mineral production, and designates over 1,200 miles of wild, scenic, and recreational rivers. To understand the order of magnitude of these proposals and to put some of these numbers in perspective, please consider that, with the miles of wild and scenic rivers this bill designates, I could drive from my district office in Hot Springs, Arkansas to Times Square in New York City. That drive would take me over 19 hours, driving over 60 miles per hour. Additionally, the amount of wilderness designated in this bill is nearly equivalent to the size of President Biden’s home state of Delaware, and the bill’s mineral withdrawal is significantly larger than the state of Rhode Island.  

“Despite the fact that this bill has huge implications for four western states, this bill has not gone through regular order. In fact, this bill was put on the floor calendar before the Natural Resources Committee had even organized. Some of our freshman members, like Representative Lauren Boebert, have not even been in Congress for two months now, and this bill is going to the floor without her consultation, approval or ability to offer a single amendment in committee. This is particularly egregious because nearly two-thirds of the wilderness designations in Title I of the bill are in her district. 

“Because Republicans on our committee were unable to offer amendments to this bill through a committee markup process, I am asking the Rules Committee to make as many amendments as possible in order so we can at least have a fraction of the debate that is deserved. Specifically, I think the committee should consider amendments that affect the following six areas:
“Number one is recreation and public access. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Americans have been getting outdoors and enjoying their public lands more than ever. The last thing we should do is restrict existing recreational activities on those lands that people are currently utilizing. Wilderness is the most restrictive federal land designation and doesn’t allow for many forms of recreation, including mountain biking and ATV use. Many of the lands designated under this bill include existing motorized and mechanized trails. For example, Title I of the bill designates a ‘potential wilderness area’ that overlaps with eight miles of the Tabegauche Trail in Colorado. This trail connects Grand Junction and Montrose and is very popular with mountain bikers and motorized recreationists. Representative Moore of Utah, Representative Calvert, and myself have offered amendments that I hope are made in order that would preserve these existing recreational uses and protect sportsmen’s and the public’s access to these lands. 

“Number two is forest health and wildfire mitigation. 2020 was a historically bad wildfire season that saw millions of acres across the West burned. Wilderness designations severely limit the ability to mechanically treat areas that are overgrown and fire-prone and in the past 10 years, nearly 7 million acres of wilderness and wilderness study areas have burned in catastrophic wildfires. Alarmingly, this bill also designates lands in the wildland-urban interface that are close to communities and at high risk for wildfire. Designating these lands as wilderness is a serious threat to life and property in these areas. My amendment #46, Rosendale amendment #36, LaMalfa amendment #64, and Moore amendment #6 should all be top considerations for the committee as you debate which amendments to make in order.  

“Number three is national security. Lamborn amendment #43 would modify a study in the bill that was accepted as an amendment last year to delay any wilderness designations until we can verify these designations do not impact our military readiness. There are serious concerns this bill could impact critically important helicopter training at the Colorado Army National Guard’s High-Altitude Aviation Training Site (HAATZ). It is common sense that we would wait to designate these lands until we can be absolutely certain there is no national security impact.

“Number four is good governance. Several of the members whose districts are impacted by this bill strongly oppose this legislation and have not been meaningfully consulted on its provisions. Representative Stauber has offered amendment #11 that would exempt three Congressional Districts that are represented by members who oppose this bill. Because these members have not even been consulted on this package, I would strongly urge this amendment is made in order. Additionally, I introduced amendment #45 that would exempt any lands that do not meet the definition of ‘wilderness’ in the Wilderness Act. Wilderness is supposed to represent lands that are untouched by man, not lands that already have existing infrastructure like roads or trails. Tens of thousands of acres designated under this act were not recommended by the agencies and should be removed from the bill. Am I alone in seeing a problem with designating an area as a wilderness that doesn’t meet the determination of wilderness? 

“Number five is mineral security. Title VIII of this legislative package imposes a 1 million acre mineral withdrawal in Arizona that would put the largest tract of uranium deposits in the country off limits forever. This action will undoubtedly result in increased imports of uranium from nations that are hostile to the interests of the United States. Gosar amendment #29, Burgess #22, Rosendale #32, and Hern #53 would require the administration to certify that the proposed withdrawal will not negatively impact the national security of the United States by increasing our reliance on nations such as Russia and China for our critical minerals, including uranium. Additionally, Curtis #47 would require the Department of the Interior to study the mineral deposits in each of the proposed withdrawal areas to ensure we are not indefinitely locking up minerals needed for battery storage, renewable energy technology and electric vehicles. 

“Number six is water rights. The western states are governed by a senior water rights doctrine usually determined by a state water engineer or board. This doctrine has been in place for over a century and a half in both Democrat and Republican administrations, yet this bill circumvents state water rights primacy in some cases. My western colleague from Idaho, Mr. Fulcher, has two amendments that protect state water law from federal pre-emption. In addition, Mr. Newhouse has an amendment that protects existing contractual water supplies under this bill. I request these amendments be made in order.

“In conclusion, I’d like to urge my colleagues to oppose this bill and make the amendments I mentioned earlier today in order. Thank you, and I would be glad to answer any questions.”

Watch Westerman’s full remarks here.

Contact: Committee Press Office 202-226-9019

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