This was on passage of S.22, which added almost 60 new areas to the National Wilderness System. The legislation was essentially a collection of over 150 public land bills that had been reported to the full Senate during the previous Congress by its Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, but on which the Senate had not voted. These bills added over 2 million acres to the National Wilderness Preservation System in nine different States. Several other provisions, unrelated to public-lands, had been added to those 150 bills as part of S.22 Those other provisions related to, among other things, ocean regulations, a facility for the Smithsonian, the implementation of a settlement of tribal claims for regarding water rights, and the Christopher and Dana Reeve Paralysis Act.
Sen. Bingaman (D-NM), who was leading the effort on behalf of S.22, said it “has been developed on a bipartisan basis (and has been)delayed for a long period . . . . .” Echoing Sen. Bingaman, Republican Senator Crapo (R-ID) had said “(T)o call this legislation bipartisan is an understatement. . . .”
Sen. Coburn (R-OK), who led the opposition to the bill, noted that it was 1,300 pages long, would cost between $10 and $12 billion and was not subject to amendment under the procedures the Senate had adopted for its consideration. He argued that it was too costly at a time when the country was suffering economically, and that it was inconsistent with national energy policy because it prevented the development of potential energy-production. He said that the bill “does not go towards building back the trust in the Congress to actually do things in order of priority that are going to make a difference for this country.”
Coburn said he also opposed the bill because its impact was to “step all over property rights in this country. Even though several of the bills in here say they would not use eminent domain, every one of them still has the right to use eminent domain outside the areas we have created in this bill. So we have taken one of the basic rights of Americans in this country, and the Senate (is saying): Sorry, our parochial interests for what we want to do for the State trumps your property rights.”
Bingaman responded that there had been an extensive process of amending the bills that had been combined into S.22, and that those bills “were reported after amendments by unanimous vote. We have made some further modifications to some of these bills in an effort to address any remaining concerns.” He also argued that the legislation “is not inconsistent with national energy policy (because) . . . Almost none of the wilderness areas designated by the bill are in areas with significant energy development potential.”
The vote was 73-21. Fifty-four Democrats and nineteen Republicans voted “aye”. Twenty-one Republicans voted “nay”. As a result, the Senate passed S.22 and sent it on to the House of Representatives.