A New Beginning - The 113th Congress Convenes

Your Wilderness - February 2013

The new Congress convened at noon Jan. 3, only minutes after the 112th Congress had adjourned. This rather unusual transition was the result of the need for the last Congress to avoid the “fiscal cliff” and wrap up some unfinished business before completing its official duties. While there had been some hope that the 112th Congress would, in its closing hours, consider a small public lands package, including several wilderness proposals, this did not happen.

The new Congress got off to a good start, as three wilderness bills were introduced in the House of Representatives on the very first day—Representative Mike Simpson (R-ID) reintroduced his Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act (H.R. 145); Rep. Dan Benishek (R-MI) reintroduced the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Conservation and Recreation Act (H.R. 163); and Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) once again introduced his Udall-Eisenhower Arctic Wilderness Act (H.R. 139). Then on Jan. 23, Rep. Dave Reichert (R-WA) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) introduced the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Additions and Pratt and Middle Fork Snoqualmie Rivers Protection Act for their state, along with co-sponsors Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-WA) and Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA). In addition, several other House members indicated their intention to introduce wilderness bills in the very early days of this session. Possibilities include the Columbine Wilderness Act in New Mexico and the Devil's Staircase Wilderness Act for Oregon.

The U.S. Senate, for procedural reasons, did not entertain the introduction of new legislation until Jan. 22, but on that day several wilderness bills were dropped into the hopper, including the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act (S. 37) and the Senate companion to the Sleeping Bear Dunes legislation (S. 23). We anticipate a number of other senators will also introduce legislation to protect our wild lands early this session, including the Beauty Mountain and Agua Tibia Wilderness Act (California); the Columbine Wilderness in New Mexico, previously noted; as well as the reintroduction of the Organ Mountains-Doña Ana County Conservation and Protection Act and the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act (Colorado).

Alpine Lakes, WashingtonThe new Congress has also seen some big changes in the structure of the committees that consider wilderness and other public lands legislation. In the House, a new subcommittee was established within the Natural Resources Committee that will have jurisdiction over wilderness—the Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulations, which will be responsible for all matters related to the National Park System, U.S. Forests, public lands, and national monuments. The subcommittee will also have jurisdiction over the National Environmental Policy Act, which is essential to virtually every agency plan or action affecting federal lands. The chairman of the new subcommittee will be familiar, however: Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT), who formerly chaired the old Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands.

In addition to the new subcommittee, the makeup of the full House Natural Resources Committee has also changed considerably because of the recent elections and congressional reorganization. Many former champions of wilderness are no longer on the committee, including Rep. Dale Kildee (D-MI), who retired; Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA), who moved to the Agriculture Committee; Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), who moved to the Energy and Commerce Committee; and Rep. Martin Heinrich (D-NM), who replaced retiring Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM). Fortunately, there are other supporters who remain—such as Rep. Ed Markey (MA), the committee's ranking Democrat; Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR); and Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ). Finally, the 113th Congress also welcomed several new members who were assigned to the committee and are likely to become leaders, such as Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA).

The Senate underwent big changes, as well. With the retirement of longtime chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and strong wilderness supporter Sen. Bingaman, the committee is now chaired by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR). Sen. Wyden has also championed wilderness designation and will likely continue pursuing many of the policies the former chairman did. Members of Pew's legislative wilderness team met recently with senior Wyden's committee staff members to discuss the likely agenda for the committee in the 113th Congress, and we believe Chairman Wyden will actively pursue public lands protection legislation in the years ahead.

Another welcome change for the committee is the addition of one of the newest senators, Martin Heinrich (D-NM). Sen. Heinrich has championed wilderness and lands protection throughout his career. While he will be sorely missed on the House Natural Resources Committee for his leadership, intelligence, and dedication to public lands protection, he will bring those qualities to the Senate and its Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

The 113th Congress will be significantly different in many ways from the last Congress—with new committees, new chairmen, new members in the House and Senate, and new challenges. We look forward to working with these lawmakers and will continue to actively champion wilderness and other public lands protections for our nation's federal lands.