This was a vote on the resolution or “rule” setting the terms for debating legislation adding millions of acres of wilderness, rivers and public lands and sites to federal control. This legislation combined into one measure more than 160 proposals designating new wildernesses, wild and scenic rivers, hiking trails, heritage areas, water projects, and historic preservation initiatives. As with most major bills the House considers, it first had to approve a rule for it, before the House could begin debate on the measure.
Rep. Pingree (D-ME), one of the primary supporters of the legislation and the rule for it, described the legislation as providing “the opportunity to strengthen our National Park System, improve forest health, facilitate better management of our public lands, and increase the quantity and quality of the water supply in numerous local communities.” She added: “By finally passing this legislation today, we will designate over 2 million acres of land as wilderness. “ In response to an anticipated criticism of the bill, Pingree said “we are not closing off or preventing access to land . . . This legislation . . . preserves land for hunting, fishing, and other recreational activities.
Rep. Foxx(R-NC), who was leading the opposition to the rule, first noted that she was a supporter of national parks. She then said the bill for which the rule was being debated “is going to harm our country” because, among other things, it would restrict people with disabilities from using many public lands. She noted that: “We even have the ACLU . . . opposed to this bill . . . .” Foxx went on to claim: “But it's going to be rammed through, like so many other things have been rammed through in this session of Congress, and it's setting the tone for how the majority is operating in this Congress at this time . . . there are 160 bills in this one bill--even though 100 of them have never been debated by either (congressional) body . . . ."
Rep. Hastings (R-WA), another opponent of the rule, acknowledged that the bill the rule covered “does contain some worthwhile provisions”. He then went on to described the overall legislation as “a monster bill (incorporating) more than 170 pieces of different legislation (and over) 100 of these bills have never been voted on in the House.” He argued that it “locks up federal lands from renewable energy production, including wind and solar” and would cost $10 billion. Hastings also complained that he had proposed that ten amendments be made in order, but that the rule developed by the Democrats did not allow for any of them to be offered.
In response to the Republicans’ complaints, Rep. Blumenauer (D-OR) said he supported the rule because the bill is too important for us to “tweak the legislation now,” since bills dealing with land and wilderness areas can get “tied up in Senate politics and procedural activities for a half-dozen years.”
The rule was approved by a vote of 247-177 along almost straight party lines. Two hundred and forty-six Democrats and one Republican voted “aye”. One hundred and seventy-four Republicans and three Democrats voted “nay”. As a result, the House was able to begin debating final passage of legislation adding millions of acres of wilderness, rivers and public lands and sites to federal control.