Democrats Block GOP Grazing Bill Opposed By Clinton
WASHINGTON (AP) _ House Democrats blocked action today on a Republican plan that charges ranchers slightly more to graze livestock on public lands but excludes conservation reforms President Clinton wants.
Rep. James Hansen, R-Utah, chairman of the House Resources subcommittee on national parks, forests and lands, initially said he had the votes to approve the bill and send it to full committee.
But Rep. Bill Richardson, D-N.M., said Republicans were rushing to move the measure in the few hours before the House was scheduled to adjourn for an August recess. He evoked a parliamentary objection and Hansen canceled the meeting.
``We need to do this in a rational way,″ Richardson said.
In postponing the hearing, Hansen charged that ``this is going to create a firestorm in the West″ and called the GOP plan ``a reasonable attempt to move away from heavy-handed regulation.″
Hansen vowed to return in September to the proposal, which would raise the fee from the current historical low of $1.61 to $2.10 per month per animal grazing unit, made up of combinations of cattle or sheep.
The grazing fees _ which apply to tens of millions of acres managed by the Bureau of Land Management in the West _ have hovered between $1.80 and $2 or so in recent years.
Environmentalists argue at least a doubling of the fee is necessary to bring government revenues in line with the cost of grazing and to discourage over-grazing of fragile grass lands.
BLM Director Mike Dombeck told Congress last month the GOP grazing package ``turns back the clock on rangeland management.″
``Too many watersheds are not producing their full range of benefits. Too many soils continue to lose fertility. ...″ he told the subcommittee.
Hansen wanted to start action on the bill today because Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt soon may move forward with a more ambitious reform package opposed by Republicans and most ranchers.