Wilderness preservation bill clears U.S. House, faces Trump veto threat

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House voted Thursday to approve legislation to preserve vast swaths of wilderness and recreation areas in Colorado. 

Lawmakers voted 227-182, largely along party lines, to approve the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy (CORE) Act from U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.). The bill aims to preserve about 400,000 acres of public lands for wilderness and recreation in the state. 

Fred Upton
Fred Upton | Ken Shipp, Department of Energy, Wikimedia Commons

The Michigan delegation was split 8-5, with U.S. Rep. Fred Upton (R-St. Joseph) crossing over and U.S. Rep. Justin Amash (I-Cascade Twp.) voting with Republicans. U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Tipton) didn’t vote.

The bill faces opposition from Colorado Republicans and an uncertain future in the GOP-controlled Senate. President Donald Trump earlier this week threatened to veto the bill if it reaches his desk.

“I’m proud to pass legislation on the House floor that was written by Coloradans to conserve the treasured public lands across our state. For decades, local leaders, ranchers, anglers, outdoor businesses and conservationists across our state have hammered out the designations to create the bill that we considered on the floor today,” Neguse said after the vote. 

The bill would establish permanent protections in the White River National Forest along Colorado’s Continental Divide and in the San Juan Mountains in Southwest Colorado. It would withdraw approximately 200,000 acres in the Thompson Divide from future oil and gas development and set a formal boundary for the Curecanti National Recreation Area

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The legislation also would designate the first-ever National Historic Landscape around Camp Hale, a winter warfare training ground used by the U.S. Army during World War II. 

The bill was opposed by Republican U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, whose Colorado district would be impacted by the measure. He said that the bill’s authors — Neguse in the House and Colorado Democrat Michael Bennet in the U.S. Senate — hadn’t properly addressed concerns from impacted communities.  

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) speaks during the Democratic Presidential Debate at the Fox Theatre July 31, 2019 in Detroit, Michigan. | Scott Olson/Getty Images)

“In years past, the Colorado delegation has worked together in crafting public lands bills that balance the unique needs of our state including responsible energy resource development, increasing demand for outdoor recreation areas, and protecting forests and wildlife in delicate ecosystems,” Tipton said Thursday. 

“The CORE Act encompasses many of these aspects, but in its current form the bill has not adequately incorporated the necessary feedback from the Western Slope communities which the bill predominantly impacts.”

Neguse and Bennet have stressed broad local backing for the bill. “The CORE Act enjoys the full support of seven affected counties, many cities and towns, local leaders, and a wide range of stakeholders,” Bennet said in a statement after the vote. 

The Colorado senator said he’ll continue to press the issue in the upper chamber of Congress. “Now that the House has done its job, it’s time for the Senate to take up the CORE Act. Colorado has waited long enough.”

He told reporters during a call after the vote, “This is an incredibly important bill, not just to preserve the public lands for the next generation but also for the economy of Colorado.” 

Bennet has asked the leaders of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources to hold a hearing on the bill, but they have yet to do so. Colorado Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, who sits on that committee, is not a co-sponsor of the Senate version of the legislation

Donald Trump | Gage Skidmore, Flickr

The Trump administration said in its veto threat that rural communities have raised concerns that the land-use restrictions in the bill “would have negative effects on local economies.” The White House did note, however, that “it is willing to work with the Congress to improve it if the bill is considered further.”

Bennet, who’s running for the Democratic presidential nomination, said he was “shocked” by Trump’s veto threat and called it “completely inexplicable.” But, “we’re not going to let that dissuade us,” he said. “We’re going to get it through the Senate.” 

Should the bill make it to Trump’s desk, Bennet added, “I hope he’ll reconsider his views.”