US House approves package of public land bills that includes Colorado Dem priorities

Bennet, Polis introduce legislation to protect, create public lands along Continental Divide
Posted at 5:08 PM, Feb 26, 2021

DENVER – Colorado’s members of the U.S. House of Representatives voted on party lines Friday to again pass a package of eight public lands bills that were first approved by the House last year.

The package of measures, H.R. 803, passed the House in a 227-200 vote, with all of Colorado Democrats voting in favor of passage and its Republicans opposing the bill’s passage.

The bill incorporates two of the measures that have been sponsored by Colorado Democrats: The Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy (CORE) Act, which is sponsored in the House by Rep. Joe Neguse and in the Senate by Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper; and the Colorado Wilderness Act, which was originally sponsored by Rep. Diana DeGette.

Both measures passed in the House last year but were never brought up in the Senate, which was controlled by Republicans during the last Congress. During her committee confirmation hearings, Interior Secretary nominee Deb Haaland pledged her support for the CORE Act.

The CORE Act, which was first introduced in January 2019, combines other Colorado public land bills from the past into one, and would protect about 400,000 acres of public land in Colorado.

About 73,000 acres of that land is wilderness and 80,000 acres would be designated as recreation and conservation management areas. The measure also would make Camp Hale a National Historic Landscape, prohibit new oil and gas development on hundreds of thousands of acres in the Thompson Divide.

“I’m thrilled that we were able to pass the CORE Act through Congress so early in the 117th Congress,” Neguse said in a statement, adding that he hoped the Senate, with its 50-50 split that can be broken by the vice president, would be able to push it over the finish line this Congress.

“The widespread support for the CORE Act across Colorado speaks for itself. Now that the House has done its job, Senator Hickenlooper and I won’t stop working until this bill passes the Senate and is signed into law,” Sen. Bennet said in a statement.

“The House’s passage of the CORE Act today – for the third time – means we’re poised to prove that expression true. We’re eager to finish the job in the Senate,” Hickenlooper said.

DeGette’s measure, the Colorado Wilderness Act, would protect more than 650,000 acres of land across the state, including many areas that are already considered wilderness areas but for which DeGette is seeking permanent protections.

“For those of us who have been lucky enough to visit the lands that will be protected under this bill, we know how special they are. And we will never stop fighting to protect these majestic places for our children and grandchildren to enjoy,” DeGette said in a statement.

H.R. 803 – the Protecting America’s Wilderness and Public Lands Act – also includes protections for lands near the Grand Canyon National Park, expand wilderness areas and public lands in various parts of California and designate land in Washington state as wilderness area.

The bill’s passage comes as the Biden administration commits to a plan to conserve 30% of the nation’s land and water by 2030.

While Colorado Democrats and conservation advocates were pleased by the passage of the measure, all three of Colorado’s Republican House members voted against it and called it a “land grab.”

“The last thing communities in my district need is further restrictions imposed by the federal government on what they can do on public lands,” Rep. Lauren Boebert, who represents the 3rd Congressional District where much of the land in question sits.

Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., said he voted against the measure because it does not allow for mineral development on the land in question and limit access to those same lands for recreation.

Rep Ken Buck, the Republican who represents the 4th Congressional District, said he voted against the measure because he says it “gives more power to bureaucrats in Washington to enforce onerous restrictions and kill energy jobs.”

The bill now heads to the Senate for possible consideration.