Defense Budget Passes With 750,000 Acres of Protected Lands

Attached to the $585 billion National Defense Authorization Act – which funds the Pentagon – is a big surprise – riders protect some 750,000 acres of public land!

Passed by both the House and Senate, there was strong bipartisan demand for the move since so few land protection bills have passed in the past six years.

The conservation package designates 250,000 acres of wilderness and another 362,000 acres are shielded from oil and gas extraction – the entire Northfork watershed in northwest Montana. 150,000 acres in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest preserves salmon populations as does permanent protection for three wild, free-flowing rivers in Washington State.

The Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River is protected as part Alpine Wilderness Lakes in Washington State:

Wilderness Washington Alpine Lakes

But their are plenty of painful compromises. Senator McCain (R-AZ) got mining giant Rio Tinto a sweetheart deal – 2400 acres for copper extraction in Tonto National Forest that’s ancient  Apache burial, medicinal and ceremonial grounds; Senator Murkowski (R-AK) got 70,000 acres of Alaska’s Tongass National Forest opened for logging; and Senator Barrasso (R-WY) got expedited oil/gas and grazing permits from the Bureau of Land Management.

That’s right, fracking permits will now be expedited on federal lands! 

Those who want federal lands turned back to the states (and then to extraction industries) aren’t happy either. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) calls it an "extreme land grab."

This will "lead to more government ownership of America’s land and more restrictive land-use policies that prohibit energy development and economic activity," moans the Heritage Foundation.

And since it’s attached to the Pentagon’s budget, Republicans codified how biofuels can be used – only if the cost is the same or less than fossil fuels. If they want to build their own biofuels refinery, the Pentagon must send Congress a business case before signing a contract.

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