The U.S. House of Representatives passed a budget reconciliation bill by a vote of 217 to 215. Fourteen Republicans joined all voting Democrats and one Independent in opposing the bill.

The budget includes language seeking to:

— Sell off millions of acres of public lands currently protected by the federal government at bargain-basement prices — solely for the private gain of private corporations — in one of the largest land giveaways in our nation's history. Companies would be able to buy public lands containing valuable minerals for a tiny fraction of their market value, without paying any royalties or additional fees. Areas in or near national parks, including Yosemite, Yellowstone, and Grand Canyon, could all be at risk.

— Deem as “adequate” an as-yet-unwritten environmental impact statement for oil shale development. State and local governments, Indian tribes, and citizens across the nation would be deprived of the opportunity to voice their concerns about oil shale exploitation, and its impacts on clean air, safe drinking water, and vulnerable ecosystems.

— Split the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, isolating California and Hawaii from Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington. Anti-environmental interests want to “judge-shop” in a new federal circuit court, where they hope judges would look the other way when environmental laws are violated. Former Governor and Senator Pete Wilson, a California Republican, has opposed such a split, calling it “environmental gerrymandering.” The vast majority of Ninth Circuit judges, including all Bush appointees, oppose splitting the circuit.

— Cut important Farm Bill programs that help farmers and ranchers protect and enhance natural resources on their land. The Conservation Security Program, which rewards good conservation stewardship, would be cut by $504 million over five years. The Watershed Rehabilitation Program would be eliminated, meaning a loss of $225 million that local governments use to rehabilitate aging dams and other flood control projects. The bill also eliminates the budget for popular and effective federal programs that support farm-related energy efficiency and renewable energy projects.

“Since only minor changes have been made to the budget proposal, it is obvious that a lot of arm twisting must have occurred since then,” said Sarah Wilhoite, legislative associate for Earthjustice. “Congress recognized that special places like the Arctic Refuge need protection. However, it is unfortunate they did not apply that standard of protection to our other sensitive public lands.”

According to the Sierra Club, this bill spares the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and coastlines from drilling but puts America's public lands up for sale.

“We thank those Members of Congress who helped keep Arctic and offshore
drilling out of the budget in this round. We urge them to stand strong and
ensure that the budget does not become a vehicle for those losing
provisions and the bad measures on mining and cuts to conservation programs
that remained in the bill. America deserves an honest dialogue about a real
energy future, not bogus policy crammed through in the federal budget,” said Carl Pope, Sierra Club Executive Director.

“The removal of Arctic and coastal drilling by no means implies this bill
is good for America. The House passed a bill loaded down with draconian
cuts to programs for the most vulnerable in our country, provisions to
allow mining and other companies to privatize public lands, serious funding
cuts for important conservation programs, and a split in the 9th Circuit
Court of Appeals.

“The removal of Arctic and coastal drilling clearly demonstrates that
attempts to pass Arctic Refuge and coastal drilling through the budget
process are non-starters with the American people and the House. Leadership
was under intense pressure from moderate Republicans opposed to drilling,
and we hope their firm stand serves as a warning that any budget that would
open the Arctic Refuge or America?s coasts to destructive drilling faces a
dead-end in the House.

“Unfortunately, the oil and gas industries and their allies in Congress
will not take 'no' for an answer. They have coveted the America's Arctic
Refuge and coasts for decades, and they will not give up easily. The Senate
version of the Budget does include an Arctic drilling provision, and they
will try to send a final bill back to the House with Arctic drilling still
in. And some members in the House are still intent on opening up America's
coasts to oil and gas drilling as well.”