Washington • Rep. Rob Bishop pushed through language in an emergency spending bill for Hurricane Sandy relief that precludes the government from buying any more property, a move environmentalists say could undermine access to national park sites.
Bishop's amendment, which passed the House late Tuesday on a near party-line vote of 223-198, is aimed at ensuring the National Park Service doesn't try to add land to its inventory instead of using funds to repair Sandy-damaged parks.
After the amendment passed, Bishop, along with fellow Utah GOP Reps. Jason Chaffetz and Chris Stewart, voted against the overall Sandy relief bill. Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, backed it.
"If you want to buy more federal land, that's the icing on the cake," Bishop said on the House floor. "That should go through [the] regular [budgeting process]. That is not emergency spending."
Bishop said he understands that the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and several other parks were hard hit by the storm last October but that the original bill was vague enough to allow the Interior Department to do more than repair storm-ravaged facilities.
Craig Obey, a senior vice president of the National Parks Conservation Association, says Bishop's change in the legislation could hamper the government's ability to add new trailheads or parking lots where previous access points were destroyed.
Another amendment by Rep. Bill Flores, R-Texas, also killed funding for restoring and protecting coastlines that the group says will hurt conservation efforts in New Jersey and New York.
"We urge the Senate to restore the funding for coastline protection and eliminate the language limiting the Interior secretary's authority to provide for public access," Obey said.
The bill now heads to the Senate.