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Designating Certain Land As Components Of The National Wilderness Preservation System

Location: Washington, DC

Designating Certain Land As Components Of The National Wilderness Preservation System


Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, at 10:30, I believe, this morning, we are going to vote on cloture on this lands package. I wish to take a few minutes--and my colleague has been more than gracious to me in terms of allowing time--to discuss this.

Our country is at a very difficult time in terms of our economic growth but, more importantly, in terms of the number of people who are suffering. We have before us a 1,300-page bill that we will hear has been looked at for a year and a half--the proponents of which, I am sure, have--that is nonamendable and that we will spend somewhere between $10 billion and $12 billion, when we think about the long-term consequences of the bill.

The questions I have before the body on this bill are, No. 1, is this truly a priority for us at the times we are in, considering the nature of the great difficulties that face this country; and No. 2, is it a priority for us in terms of the things that are out there that we can really be making a difference on today that we refuse to make a difference on.

Mr. President, let me highlight that for you for a minute.

This last year we put out a report on the Justice Department that showed very clearly $10 billion a year in waste. I gave a speech on the floor this last summer outlining $380 billion in waste. We know we have at least $50 billion a year in waste at the Pentagon. We know we have at least $80 billion worth of fraud a year in Medicare. The first thing we do in this Congress is create $10 billion more of spending. So we are not attacking the structural problems that actually face our Government, but, more importantly, we are not attacking the biggest problem. The biggest problem is the American people do not have confidence in us as an institution to do what they do every day, and that is to set priorities.

Every family out there today is going through a process, much like I did at the end of the year, seeing how much is going to come in, what they are absolutely obligated to spend, and if there is any left over, where is the priority at which they do that. We are in reverse of that process. We are saying we are not even going to look at that process, we are not going to look at the $380 billion worth of waste, we are not going to look at the programs.

I had a visit with Mr. Duncan, who is the new nominee for the Education Department. To his surprise, he was blown over by the fact that there are more educational programs outside the Department of Education than there are inside. Yet we refuse to work on those very hard things that will actually make a large difference in the outcome.

We are going to be voting yet this week on putting another $350 billion in the hands of the Treasury Department to enhance liquidity. But with that, we hear from Larry Summers that we are going to direct the money to whoever needs to borrow rather than whoever needs to try to be liquid in terms of loaning money. We have it exactly backwards.

Before us is a bill that will markedly undermine attempts at energy independence, will add to the 107 million acres of land that presently are wilderness areas which will make them truly, in all respects, significantly difficult to ever tap any natural resources, regardless of whether we can do that without any impact on the environment.

It is interesting to note that the actual number of acres of land that are in wilderness areas is greater than the total developed land in this country, which is 106 million acres.

We are going to take another 2.2 million acres and move them away from any possibility. Yet nowhere in our thought was--whether we were manipulated by supply-demand constraints or we were manipulated by futures markets--the fact that oil reached an all-time high and we were paying $4 for a gallon of gasoline. Completely outside the scope of this bill was any consideration that we might want to preserve our ability to have access to future oil reserves--even the disputed debate on the Wyoming Range on whether we are going to have access to, the lowest estimate, 5 million barrels of oil and maybe 3 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, all the way up to 300 million barrels of oil and 15 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

My complaint and my reason for voting no on cloture is really fourfold. No. 1 is it is not a priority what we are doing. No. 2 is our problems with demand that we would be doing something different than what we do in this bill. No. 3 is the process which has not allowed for significant amendments of our choice on this bill is flawed. And, finally, No. 4, it does not go towards building back the trust in the Congress to actually do things in order of priority that are going to make a difference for this country.

I recognize that I am in the minority opinion of that view in this body. What I don't recognize and what I know is true is that I am not in the minority opinion of the people in this country.

We are about to vote on a 1,300-page bill that will not be amended, that very few have read, that very few have studied hard as to the consequences it will have on our energy dependency, and we are going to pass it. It is probably going to be sent to the new President, and he is probably going to sign it, which gives me great cause for worry because my friend, the President-elect, ran on hope and a promise of change. I don't see any change in the Senate.

My hope is somewhat diminished because I don't see us as a body collectively addressing the big problems that face us as a nation. There is no question that many of the States that have programs in this bill have wanted them for a long time, and they are going to be happy with them, the fact that we do all these things for these various organizations to create four new extensions to national parks at a time when there is a $9 billion backlog on the national parks we have today.

But I wonder if getting something parochially is worth putting the country at risk, and not just at risk with this bill but the risk of process, the risk that we will continue to plow ahead on that which will not make an ultimate difference in the security, the long-term financial outlook of this country.

Anybody who reads this bill will say: Why are you doing certain things now? Why would you authorize the spending of $3.5 million for a birthday party in Florida? Why would you enhance botanical gardens now when we are going to run a $1.8 trillion deficit this year? Why would you build a new orchid garden for the Smithsonian now when we have so many other issues that are so far more important that we should be doing? Why in light of the greatest drought California has ever seen would we disrupt the water supply to 10,000 farmers, creating more than $2 billion worth of GDP? Why would we do that? Why would we do that now? I don't understand why we are doing it now.

I understand the politics of it. I understand the way the Senate works. I understand the reason Members want to get things done for their States. But right now in our Nation, we ought to be thinking about the good of the Nation as a whole, the long-term good of the Nation as a whole.

Confidence--confidence--is what Americans don't have today. They are not confident in their future. They are not confident in the economics of maintaining their family, their lifestyle. As a matter of fact, the confidence is so low that we are going to have a savings rate that we have not seen in 40 years in this country because people are saving for a rainy day, and they think the rainy day is here. What we are doing is destroying what confidence is left.

Our President-elect's job over the next year, more than anything, is to restore hope and confidence in the future of this country. I believe we fall far short by bringing this bill to the Senate at this time in this way without an ability to amend it in significant ways that preserve chances for energy exploration, that take the silliness out of it--as I mentioned earlier, the 45 earmarks that are in this bill--and do not address the priorities of which we should be authorizing the spending of money in this bill. It is wasteful. It does not meet common sense. It destroys what little credibility we have left, and in the long run it diminishes the promise of change and hope for which our new President-elect stands.

I yield the floor.


Mr. COBURN. Let me clear up the data on the Wyoming Range. It is said there is only 1.5 trillion cubic feet, according to the U.S. Geologic Survey. But you have not read the complete report. The letter is new. The data used by them is older than the data used by the Bureau of Land Management. It wasn't based on the latest topographic and geological studies. That is the first problem.

The second thing they say in their report is they lacked an official map. So it is their best guess, not based on science, not based on known data.

Finally, they only approximated for the following reasons: They only had a general outline of the area and they assumed a homogenous distribution of oil and gas resources across the entire area.

Well, that is a no report. The latest report to come from the National Petroleum Council, which is subcontracted to BLM, estimates, at a minimum, 12 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. So where you get your information and what it says and what it is based on is very important.

So we have had all this defense that this is not going to impact energy based on an erroneous report based on erroneous assumptions by the National Geologic Survey, when all you have to do is read their own survey and that is the footnote to it, which says we didn't have the information, we didn't have the map, so we used an average, not what was there. Having known that the first three gas wells drilled there had to be capped because we didn't have the technology to take the flow, it was so great, the estimates by the USGS are so far out of range it is laughable. As far as 10 years counting whether it is going to have any impact on our energy, I hope we are thinking longer than 10 years. But that is what the CBO says they are going to use--10 years.

Don't forget there is another big issue with this bill in that we step all over property rights in this country. Even though several of the bills in here say they would not use eminent domain, every one of them still has the right to use eminent domain outside the areas we have created in this bill. So we have taken one of the basic rights of Americans in this country, and the Senate, in passing this bill, by saying: Sorry, our parochial interests for what we want to do for the State trumps your property rights.

If you believe in property rights, if you believe people who own land ought to have the right to develop that land, if you don't think the Federal Government ought to be funding those people who will take away your rights--which is what they will do with the heritage areas; they actually change the zoning laws as funded by the U.S. Park Service--I have a bridge I want to sell you.

We ought to be about doing what is in the best interest of the country, not what is in the best interest of our States right now. Our problems are severe. We ought to be doing things that develop confidence in this body, not undermining the confidence in this body. As far as the land exchanges, almost none of those was objected to. They could have come through here on unanimous consent, and everybody knows that. To use that as a reason for why we are at this point is not only insincere, it is inaccurate.

So it is time for us to start behaving and acting in ways that restore confidence in this body and setting priorities that are very similar to the priorities every family has to set. I will say, again, we should have spent the last 2 weeks working on waste and fraud and duplication in the Federal Government because we are getting ready to approve a bill that will spend $800 billion at the same time we know we are going to waste $300 billion in this Government. For us to spend time on this bill rather than the important things that are going to make a difference in the lives of families in this country in the long run, I believe it undermines the best values of the Senate.

With that, I yield the floor.


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