WASHINGTON — In a rare Sunday session, the U.S. Senate moved closer to passing a massive lands package that designates new wilderness areas throughout the West.
The Sunday vote was a swipe at Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who objected to what he described as questionable priorities and wasteful spending in the lands package. By holding the vote on Sunday, a procedural deadline, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, moved the legislation faster and made it less vulnerable to maneuvers that could derail it.
The bill passed 66-12, well above the 59 votes needed to allow it to proceed to a formal vote later this week.
The legislation pulls together 150 public lands, parks and water bills in one package. It authorizes water projects on Indian reservations, declares some rivers as wild and scenic and designates 2-million acres of wilderness in nine states. The bill also allows Alaska to build an airport access road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, and it designates the childhood home of former President Bill Clinton in Hope, Ark., as a national historic site.
Coburn complained about the road through the wildlife refuge and other projects in the 1,300-page bill. He also complained that the bill curtails energy development by designating so many federally owned acres as wilderness.
But Reid and other Democrats said the bill includes measures sponsored by both Republicans and Democrats.
The bill will be voted on formally this week in the Senate, then sent on to the House for approval.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.