US Senate Passes Natural Resources Management Act; Parts Authored by Rep. Paul Cook

By on February 13, 2019

On Tuesday, the US Senate overwhelmingly passed S. 47, the Natural Resources Management Act with a vote of 92-8. Authored by Senator Lisa Murkowski [R-AK] many portions of the bill were originally authored by Rep. Paul Cook (R-8th District-Apple Valley) in the last Congress (115th Congress). Rep. Cook is Yucaipa’s U.S. Congressman.

The National Resources Management Act is a package of more than 100 public lands, natural resources, and water bills. The lands package was placed directly on the Senate calendar through the Rule 14 process for expedited consideration. Sen. Murkowski is the current chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

The National Resources Management bill includes three pieces of critical legislation that had been introduced by Rep. Cook. Specifically, the bill includes the Santa Ana Wash Land Exchange Act, the Helium Extraction Act, and the California Desert Protection and Recreation Act (previously known as the California Off-road Recreation and Conservation Act).

The Santa Ana Land Wash and Exchange would authorize a land exchange of approximately 327 acres of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land for approximately 310 acres of land currently owned by the San Bernardino Water Conservation District. The land exchange will foster creating greater efficiency for two commercial companies with mining rights on the BLM land and will preserve quality habitat. The two companies will support approximately $8.5 million in infrastructure projects and $36 million annually in payroll from this site alone. In exchange, the approximate 310 acres BLM will acquire of San Bernardino Water Conservation District land will consolidate checkerboard parcels to enhance water storage and conservation while protecting critical habitats for threatened and endangered species.

The Helium Extraction Act amends the Mineral Leasing Act to allow helium extraction from gas on federal lands under the same terms as gas and oil. The United States is currently the world’s largest supplier of helium which is used in medical MRIs, air-to-missile guidance systems, and semiconductors; a steady supply of helium is critical for the medical, defense, and energy industries. Whereas the Federal Helium Reserve has previously has been satisfied by the Federal Helium Reserve our domestic helium production is of concern. BLM indicates that the reserve has enough helium to meet about 40 percent of the domestic demand for the gas but the Helium Stewardship Act of 2013 requires that the reserve must be sold and the facility closed by September 30, 2021. The next largest producers are Qatar, Algeria, and Russia. Considering the vast political, economic, and diplomatic uncertainty surrounding many of the largest foreign suppliers of helium, it could be dangerous for America to become dependent on them.

Inclusion of the National Resources Management Act marks the culmination of over five years of work by Rep. Cook and over a decade of work by activists on the ground. This bill has widespread support from local governments, recreational groups, and conservation groups, and enjoys significant bipartisan support.

This portion of S. 47 will:

  • designate or expand six Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) Recreation Areas in the California desert including Johnson Valley, Spangler Hills, El Mirage, Rasor, Dumont Dunes, and Stoddard Valley.
  • create additional protections for OHV users and ensures that these areas cannot be closed administratively.
  • create the nation’s first system of OHV Recreation areas ensuring that OHV activity is conducted in appropriate locations, protecting other parts of the desert. Combined with the nearly 100,000 acres of the existing Johnson Valley OHV Recreation Area, this bill will ensure that over 300,000 acres are permanently open for OHV use in the California Desert.
  • designate approximately 18,000 acres of existing federal land as the Alabama Hills National Scenic Area.
  • restrict large-scale projects such as renewable energy generation, while preserving all existing recreational and commercial uses of the Alabama Hills but protect filming, hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, hunting, fishing, and authorized motorized vehicle use.

The National Resources Management Act also creates numerous other benefits to California’s desert, Joshua Tree National Park and Death Valley National Park – and other protections for other areas.

“This historic legislation is the culmination of years of work by members of both parties in both chambers as well as countless groups and individuals on the ground,” said Rep. Cook. “When it becomes law, this will be the most comprehensive public lands legislation to pass Congress in over a decade. Now it’s time for the House of Representatives to act swiftly to send this bill to the President to be signed into law.”

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