Environmentalists hate sprawl -- except when it comes to the size of their expansive pet legislation on Capitol Hill.
In a last-ditch lame duck push, eco-lobbyists have been furiously pressuring Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to pass a monstrous 327-page omnibus government lands bill crammed with more than 120 separate measures to lock up vast swaths of wilderness areas. Despite the time crunch, Senate Democrats in search of 60 votes are working behind the scenes to buy off green Republicans. House Democrats would then need a two-thirds majority to fast-track the bill to the White House before the GOP takes over on Jan. 5.
Yes, the hurdles are high. But with Reid and company now vowing to work straight through Christmas into the new year (when politicians know Americans are preoccupied with the holidays), anything is possible. The Constitution is no obstacle to these power grabbers. Neither is a ticking clock.
The Democrats' brazen serial abuse of the lame-duck session is as damning as the green job-killing agenda enshrined in the overstuffed public lands package. Earlier this month, Reid assigned worker bees on three Senate committees -- Energy and Natural Resources, Commerce, and Environment and Public Works -- to draw up their public lands wish list. All behind closed doors, of course. House Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., rightly dubbed it a "Frankenstein omnibus of bills" and pointed out that the legislation "includes dozens of bills that have never passed a single committee, either chamber of Congress, or even been the subject of a hearing."
The sweeping bill bundles up scores of controversial proposals, including:
-- A stalled land transfer and gravel mining ban in Reid's home state of Nevada.
-- The designation of the Devil's Staircase Wilderness in Oregon as a federally protected wilderness where logging and road development would be prohibited.
-- Multiple watershed and scenic river designations that limit economic activity and threaten private property rights.
-- The creation of massive new national monument boundaries and wilderness areas along the southern border opposed by ranchers, farmers, local officials and citizens.
One New Mexico activist, Marita Noon, said the federal plans to usurp nearly a half-million acres in her state would result in an "illegal immigrant superhighway" off-limits to border security enforcement. Security analyst Dana Joel Gattuso pointed to a recent General Accounting Office report on how environmental permitting rules and land-use regulations have hampered policing efforts at all but three stations along the border.
This jumbo green goodie bag would be a threat to financial security for untold numbers of workers in the demonized mining, logging and construction industries already reeling from economic hardship. Vigilant GOP Sen. James Inhofe has also called attention to how the Democrats' ambitious water protection schemes would enhance the "broad, and unprecedented, scope of authority it grants EPA over state permitting programs." In addition, restrictions on public access to newly expanded wilderness areas would hit hunters, fishermen and others in the recreation and tourism businesses.
The eco-job-killers' timing couldn't be worse. The Obama administration's de facto and de jure drilling moratoria have left Gulf Coast workers in crisis. Mom-and-pop fishing operations in New England are reeling from increased regulatory burdens. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and energy czar Carol Browner's War on the West has resulted in precipitous declines in new oil and natural gas leases on public lands. And Salazar's recent expansion of the National Landscape Conservation System and Community Partnerships in the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) -- by administrative fiat -- will severely curtail energy development and tourism across more than 27 million acres of federally designated wilderness, conservation areas, rivers and monuments managed and protected by the BLM.
The extreme preservationists have run amok. It's time to fence them in.