Inside the Capitol

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

1-04 Mr. Pearce Goes To Washington

I will be in Pasadena through Jan. 6 helping with the New Mexico Rose Parade float decorating and sending back reports from there. Reach me at 505-699-9982 or



WED, 1-04-06



Syndicated Columnist


      SANTA FE -- Rep. Steve Pearce of New Mexico's 2nd Congressional District is continuing to make a name for himself in Washington, D.C. despite being only a second-term member of Congress.

      Pearce vaulted over nearly all members of the House Parks Subcommittee of the House Resources Committee to become its chairman early last year. And now he has taken the unprecedented step of conducting a hearing on the 90-year-old Organic Act that created the National Parks system.

      At issue is a rewrite of National Parks Service management policies that appear to give at least equal weight to preserving the parks and allowing recreation in the parks. Longtime supporters of national parks interpret the Organic Act as making preservation of the parks the top priority and recreation second. Subsequent laws and court decisions have upheld the priority on preservation.

      Pearce's move appears directed at boosting recreation up the ladder of priority. Most of the witnesses invited to testify to his panel were from the recreation industry and supportive of motorized recreation in the parks. Advocates of parks being a place to get away from the sounds of motorcycles, all-terrain vehicles and jet skis felt they didn't have as loud a voice.

      Following the hearing, Pearce said he wasn't sure what his next step would be, but advocates for the parks, including many National Park Service retirees living in his district are predicting the effort to redefine the mission of national parks will continue and that Pearce's panel is the easiest and most likely place for that to be done.

      Allowing off-roaders into the parks isn't the only matter top park service brass are trying to change. There is a major effort to make parks pay for themselves, or even make money for the federal government, in order to reduce the nation's growing deficits. Proposals have been made to sell 15 of the parks, allow development along the fringes of parks and sell advertising in the parks.

      Also on the agenda of the House Resources Committee is opening millions of acres of public land to miners and developers. Pearce voted for the provision in the congressional spending bill, but his fellow Republicans, Sen. Pete Domenici and Rep. Heather Wilson of Albuquerque, opposed it, fearing it could lead to a rapid sale of public lands throughout the West.

         Domenici is chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which handles such matters in the Senate. He announced that he would work to drop the provision from the budget bill when it reached the Senate. Upon hearing that news, Rep. Jim Gibbons, a Nevada Republican, conceded defeat but vowed to be back to reintroduce the measure in 2006.

         Estimates of the effect of the proposed mining law change varied from a simple increase in purchase fees for obtaining mining land, from $5 to $1,000 an acre to the opening of millions of acres throughout the west, not only to mining but to land development. There was no time to iron out the widely varying interpretations because the measure passed the House Resources Committee without debate because it was part of the budget/spending bill. Opponents of the measure have demanded that the next time the issue arises, it be in the form of a bill that can stand on its on two feet and be fully debated on its merits.

         Throughout the 2005 session of Congress, Rep. Pearce was in the eye of controversial debates about the use of public land. His positions sometimes have put him at odds with fellow Republicans in the New Mexico delegation and with hunters and fishermen who don't want to see public land taken over by developers.

         Meanwhile, I continue to hear from constituents of Pearce, worried about his positions on federal land use and upset that they are not hearing back from their letters to him. Rep. Pearce may be making points with Washington higher-ups, but he has some brush fires back home he would be wise to tend also.


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