The US House of Representatives has passed a historic public lands preservation bill that pledges to protect nearly 3m acres of federal lands in Colorado, California, Washington and Arizona.
The act combines various bills that languished without Senate approval during the Trump administration. Key provisions include permanently banning new uranium mining on land surrounding the Grand Canyon, giving wilderness designation to 1.5m acres of federal land, and preserving 1,000 river miles by adding them to the Wild and Scenic Rivers System.
“This is one of the largest public lands protection bills to ever go before Congress,” said Kristen Brengel, senior vice-president of government affairs for the National Parks Conservation Association. “Wilderness designation is the strongest protection there is to ensure the lands will never be developed. And it can’t be undone with the stroke of a pen.”
The bill, called the Protecting America’s Wilderness and Public Lands Act, has strong support from the Biden administration, in part because it will help the president achieve his goal of protecting at least 30% of US land from development by 2030 in order to combat climate change.
Still, the bill must first pass a divided Senate. Given partisan opposition to the measure from some Republican senators, approval could come down to Vice-President Kamala Harris casting a tie-breaking vote.
Sponsored by the Colorado representative Diana DeGette, the bill passed the House in a 227 to 200 vote, generally along party lines. During debate on Thursday, Republican congressional representatives opposing the act argued that it would, among other things, inhibit firefighting abilities in areas close to or surrounded by wilderness in California and Colorado, and create additional burdens for land managers.
“This bill won’t help the environment but will instead kill jobs and imperil our national security and American energy dependence,” said the Arkansas Congressman Bruce Westerman, the highest-ranking Republican member on the House natural resources committee.