by Matthew Daly, Associated Press Writer
House Republicans blasted a wide-reaching wilderness bill Tuesday and ridiculed its most high-profile supporter, singer Carole King.
WASHINGTON – House Republicans blasted a wide-reaching wilderness bill Tuesday and ridiculed its most high-profile supporter, singer Carole King.
GOP members of the House Natural Resources Committee said the bill would make residents of five Western states “feel the Earth move under their feet” as land is transferred from publicly accessible parks and forests to off-limits wilderness.
They also said the bill could cause employment rates to go “tumbling down” by banning logging, oil exploration and other development on nearly 24 million acres across Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Oregon and Washington.
King, an Idaho resident and longtime environmental activist, said she was not offended by the GOP’s spoof of her 1971 hit song, “I Feel the Earth Move.”
“If that’s their best shot we won’t have any problem passing this bill,” she said as she waited to testify in favor of the measure, which if adopted would be the second-largest wilderness expansion in U.S. history.
King and others supporters said the bill would protect some of America’s most beautiful and ecologically important lands. The measure would ban logging, oil exploration and other development on federally owned land in the five states, including 9.5 million acres of new wilderness in Idaho, 7 million acres in Montana, 5 million acres in Wyoming, 750,000 acres in northeastern Oregon and 500,000 acres in Eastern Washington. Land protected by the bill includes 3 million acres in Glacier, Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks.
The total acreage covered by the bill is 12 times greater than a 2 million-acre wilderness expansion approved by Congress and signed by President Barack Obama earlier this year. In all, the bill would cover an area equivalent to Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Vermont.
The East Coast reference is crucial, Republicans said, since the bill’s chief sponsor is Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-New York. Only three of the bill’s 75 co-sponsors live in the five affected states, and none of them represent districts included in the bill – a point Republicans repeated again and again.
Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., said the bill had greater support in Manhattan, N.Y., than Manhattan, Mont.
“This is about Washington, D.C., thinking it knows how to manage the Northern Rockies better than the people who live there. I’m here to say this isn’t the case,” Rehberg said.
King called the East Coast argument disingenuous, noting that the bill was initially drafted by environmental activists, biologists, business owners and others in the region. Maloney, who has pushed the bill since 1993, stepped forward after no one from the affected states agreed to sponsor it, King and other supporters said.
“They’re all afraid of it because of the industries that run their states,” King said, referring to lawmakers in Western states, including her home state of Idaho, who have either opposed the bill or remained silent.
Maloney told the committee she had every right to sponsor the bill, since the land in question is federally owned and belongs to all Americans. The measure would help protect important natural resources by drawing wilderness boundaries according to science, rather than politics, Maloney said.
It also would mitigate the effect of climate change on wildlife by protecting corridors that allow grizzly bears, caribou, elk, bison, wolves and other wildlife to migrate to cooler areas, she said.
Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., a co-sponsor, called the far-flung support for the bill appropriate, since elk, deer and grizzly bears do not recognize congressional districts.
But Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., said virtually all elected officials in Wyoming oppose the bill, which she called a “recycled” mess that has never passed the House or Senate.
A spokeswoman for Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, said no further action beyond Tuesday’s hearing has been scheduled.
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