The delegation's bill gets shellacked

  • No Man Mesa and Mount Pennell in the Henry Mountains

    James Catlin
 

Note: This article is a sidebar to one of this issue's feature stories, Utah hearings misfire.

In a Christmas gift to Utah environmentalists, Rep. James V. Hansen, R-Utah, unceremoniously yanked the Utah delegation's wilderness bill off the House floor Dec. 14. Hansen said he pulled the bill because there wasn't enough time to properly debate it.

There were other interpretations. In Salt Lake City, the Deseret News and the Salt Lake Tribune reported that the delegation bill was in deep trouble with some Republicans, as well as with most Democrats.

The Tribune's Jim Woolf wrote that a Republican leadership poll found that 43 to 46 GOP House members were either undecided or opposed it. Lee Davidson of the News reported that 43 to 46 Republicans support the 5.7 million acres of wilderness proposed by Rep. Maurice Hinchey of New York.

Nothing in Washington is ever for certain, but it appears that no wilderness bill will be considered by the House or Senate until 1996. One rumor had Speaker Newt Gingrich furious with Hansen for asking for precious House floor time and then not using it.

Dave Lemmon, on the staff of Rep. Bill Orton, Utah's lone Democrat, said Hansen's pulling of the bill was "absolutely significant. They had no idea this would happen. If they don't have the votes in the House, how can they possibly move it in the Senate?"

Orton has drafted a bill that both the delegation and environmentalists reject, but that Lemmon says has support in the rural counties. He says it would protect 1.2 million acres as core wilderness, surrounded by 3.1 million acres of national conservation areas. It protects the land while allaying the fears rural areas have of wilderness, he says.

In the wake of Hansen's setback, Lemmon says Orton will take his bill back to the rural counties in 1996.

But Hansen still has options. The moderate Republican bloc that twice helped Democrats defeat the Interior appropriations bill voted for it in mid-December even though it still allows logging of Alaska's Tongass National Forest and keeps California's new Mojave National Park from being managed as a park. The moderates voted for it on the third try because the bill now provides for a moratorium on the patenting of land under the 1872 Mining Law (HCN, 12/11/95).

Following that model of giving away a few things to gain a core objective, Hansen could drop a federal-state land exchange that favors Utah, in money terms, by a 10-to-1 ratio; drop the bill's hard-release language; and add a few hundred-thousand more acres of wilderness protection. These concessions might earn it moderate Republican support.

But momentum may be against Hansen. The bill has become a lightning rod, and the 20 million acres of Bureau of Land Management land in Utah is now a national issue, like Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. On the day Hansen pulled his bill, USA Today editorialized against it. Given the national publicity, representatives may be hearing about Utah's beauty from constituents over the Christmas break.

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