Reported in The Hill: Republicans eye block of Interior Dept. wilderness policy

February 9, 2011

Republicans eye block of Interior Dept. wilderness policy

By Ben Geman - 02/09/11 05:43 AM ET

By Ben Geman - 02/09/11 05:43 AM ET

A senior Republican said Tuesday that Interior Department spending legislation could prevent the department from carrying out a new wilderness policy that has drawn widespread opposition from Western GOP members.

Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), who leads the Appropriations Committee subpanel that crafts Interior’s budget, said lawmakers could include language that prevents federal funding from being used to implement the program.

He said spending legislation “might” contain such language, adding, “And with defunding limits, or funding limitation amendments, who knows what might come up on the floor.”

Interior in December announced its “wild lands” policy to survey and preserve certain public lands that have not received a formal wilderness designation from Congress.

While Interior pledged an open and robust planning process, the move nonetheless infuriated members from states where Interior’s Bureau of Land Management is a major landowner. They fear new restrictions on oil-and-gas drilling and other activities and claim the policy is an end-run around Congress.

A slew of House Democrats recently defended the new "wild lands" initiative.

Simpson, speaking with reporters in the Capitol, reiterated his opposition to Interior’s policy but was guarded about any potential plans to curtail it.

He said he’s focused on crafting legislation that reduces overall spending, but noted that “there will probably be some policy decisions in there.”

Asked directly if he wanted a spending bill to block funding, Simpson said there should be hearings on the “wild lands” policy in the Natural Resources Committee, but added:

“I don’t like their [Interior’s] proposal. I think it will make land management more difficult rather than easier. Now, obviously they have a difference of opinion. It wouldn’t bother me if there was a ‘No funds shall be used for wild lands’ designation, because I really honestly believe that if we want to do a type of lands as wild lands, that’s something that ought to come from Congress.

“If [an amendment] is offered or one comes up or one is in the language, we will see,” added Simpson, chairman of the Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies.

The next federal spending bill will be the continuing resolution for fiscal 2011. The current CR expires early next month.