House Passes Wilderness Bill as Amendment to National Defense Authorization Act

by Caroline Griffith

The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation July 21 to protect public lands and rivers in California. The Protecting America’s Wilderness Act (PAW) , combined Huffman’s “Wilderness, Recreation and Working Forests Act” with similar bills for other parts of California with a bill authored by Rep. Degette of Colorado to become the larger PAW Act. That Act was added as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), seen by many as “must-pass” legislation that is more likely to be passed by the Senate and signed into law by the president. Locally, this would lead to the establishment of about 262,000 acres of wilderness in Del Norte, Humboldt, Mendocino and Trinity counties and the designation of 480 new miles of wild and scenic rivers. Collectively, amendments to the NDAA would establish nearly 1.5 million acres of new wilderness designations in California, Colorado and Washington

Gregg Foster, Executive Director of Redwood Regional Economic Development Commission said, “Local economies in Northwest California benefit when people come to visit our spectacular, world-renowned public lands and rivers. I greatly appreciate and am excited to again celebrate House passage of this legislation that will protect and restore some of the region’s most cherished landscapes.” 

Also added to the NDAA was the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy (CORE) Act. The CORE Act amendment also includes a provision that would permanently ban new mining claims around the Grand Canyon National Park. House Republicans had also pushed an amendment that would have given the Air Force control over Desert National Wildlife Refuge lands in Nevada, but that amendment was ultimately pulled from the bill.

In addition to protecting public lands, the House bill also includes $1.5 billion for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, remediation on military installations and would require that the Department of Defense use the most stringent standards for cleanup.

President Trump has threatened to veto the bill for a number of reasons, one of which is a provision included in both the House and Senate bills that would require the renaming of military bases named after Confederate generals. If passed, it would require that bases be renamed within a year of passage. The Trump administration has called this an attempt to “erase” history. Another bone of contention for the White House is the inclusion of a provision which would require coordination between the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy for the National Nuclear Security Administration’s budget request. The differences between the House and Senate versions of the NDAA will need to be reconciled in a conference committee between the two chambers before it is sent to the President for signature. 

North Coast Representative Jared Huffman said of the bill, “This year’s NDAA is another unique opportunity to secure many priorities for my constituents, like blocking the Trump administration’s new nuclear arms race, addressing climate change, cleaning up polluted waters, and protecting our public lands – including my Northwest California public lands bill which I am happy to see pass out of the House for the second time this year.”