U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman hopes to pass an omnibus public lands bill during the lame-duck session that could include protection for hundreds of thousands of acres of land in Doña Ana County.
“As chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee, Sen. Bingaman is working to develop a package of public lands bills that could be considered if there is time on the Senate floor during the lame duck session,” Bingaman spokeswoman Jude McCartin said. “It’s still unclear what bills would be in such a package, but he’ll be focusing on legislation with bipartisan support.”
McCartin added that the Organ Mountains – Desert Peaks Wilderness Act, which would designate hundreds of thousands of acres in Doña Ana County as wilderness, received unanimous support in July from the committee Bingaman, D-N.M., chairs.
The New York Times says the outlook for such a bill is unknown. Ultimately, it is up to Majority Leader Harry Reid to decide what bills will be scheduled for a vote on the Senate floor.
The Times quoted Reid’s spokesman as saying Bingaman’s potential public lands bill is on a “long list of items that are possible.” But he added that there’s “not much time” to get things done.
Many wilderness supporters fear it’s now or never – or at least now or not for a long time – for wilderness in Southern New Mexico. Republican Steve Pearce becomes the area’s congressman again in January, and he opposes the wilderness designation.
U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., “strongly” supports Bingaman’s efforts to get a bill passed before the end of the year, spokesman Marissa Padilla said.
“While the lame duck calendar is still being determined,” she said, “it’s clear that signing the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks Wilderness Act into law would be a great improvement in terms of access and security over the existing wilderness study areas.”
Teague hasn’t decided whether to support legislation
Even if the bill makes it through the Senate, its future in the House during the lame-duck session is uncertain. Outgoing U.S. Rep. Harry Teague, D-N.M., hasn’t taken a position on the bill, but he says he remains concerned about its effect on border security – even though Bingaman and Udall have worked to address such concerns and received a strong statement in support of their efforts from the head of the Border Patrol.
Teague spokeswoman Kara Kelber said, “with a unique, exceptionally dangerous drug war that has claimed thousands of lives raging just across the border in Mexico, Harry is cautious to endorse legislation until we know more about how the drug war could impact our national security, and it can be conclusively established that the bill will not hinder Border Patrol and local law enforcement efforts to restrict criminal activity, protect against the drug violence in the border region, and secure our border.”
Kelber said Teague “continues to monitor progress of the bill through the Senate, and, if it is considered by the House before the end of the year, will evaluate the bill and make his decision once the legislation is in final form.”
She said Teague opposes efforts to sell public lands for for-profit development.