Back in April, the U.S. Senate passed, by an unusual for these fractious times 85-12 vote, a bipartisan energy bill. The bill must be reconciled with an already-passed House energy bill, which is very different, and which faces a threatened veto from president Barack Obama.
Part of the Senate bill are a series of environmental proposals sponsored by Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Democrat Maria Cantwell of Washington State.
One particularly dear to Sen. Cantwell’s heart would ratify Phase 3 of The Yakima River Basin Water Enhancement Project and conclude 15 years of often hard negotiations among farmers big and small, environmental activists, and representatives of the Native American Yakama Nation.
Another feature of the bill, sponsored by New Mexico’s two Democratic Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, would grant wilderness protection to more than 20,000 acres of what is already the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. It, too, has a long and contentious history, which brightened as groups who were frequent adversaries joined forces in support.
And like the Yakima Water Project the plan for the Cerro del Yuta and Rio San Antonio Wilderness areas, north of Taos, NM, notwithstanding its coalition of backers, is still controversial.
Sen. Heinrich has another pet part of the bill, that would guarantee easier access to so-called landlocked Federal lands for sportsmen, hunters, fishermen and hikers.
Finally, the bill includes permanent authorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which provides money to buy land for everything from urban parks to wildlife refuges.
Based in Washington, D.C., Elizabeth Shogren covers how major Western issues play out on the national stage. Her stories in HCN’s DC Dispatch explore and explain the many ways that politicians, federal agencies, government policies and nonprofit groups affect Westerners’ daily lives. For the past decade, she was NPR’s environment correspondent. Previously, Elizabeth worked for the Los Angeles Times as their Moscow correspondent and then on the environment beat for their Washington bureau.