Utah's members of congress solved enough squabbles about a huge land swap designed to increase Utah school funding to push it through a key panel on Thursday - but they acknowledged they have far to go to get it through congress.
The House Interior Subcommittee on National Parks and Public lands passed on a voice voate a bill to allow Utah to swap school trust lands that it cannot now develop to produce school funds because they are surrounded by national parks, forest or Indian reservations.The bill now goes to the full Interior Committee, which is expected to consider it next week. However, not all controversy has been resolved.
For example, Interior Committee Chairman George Miller, D-Calif., is insisting that any swap for parcels of federal land larger than 5,000 acres or worth more than $5 million must receive specific approval from Congress.
Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, has said he will oppose any bill with such a provision as an improper infringement by Congress.
Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, said he and Rep. Bill Orton, D-Utah, are seeking a comprise that both Miller and GArn can accept.
One solution Orton is proposing is that the 5,000 acre/$5 million cap apply only to federal land that is not already being leased for mineral production.
He said the idea behind the cap is to ensure lands offered in the trade are used in the public interest, and mineral lease lands have already been designated for development and not for wilderness or other protection.
Owens and Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, boty complained Thursday that a Salt Lake Tribune editorial is blaming Garn for holding up progress on the bill because of his concerns. Both said Garn has been willing to seek compromise and push the bill forward.
Another problem hovering over the bill is wheter the federal lands that could be traded should be limited to only a list of coal leases in Central Utah, a telecommunications site near Vernal and land around the Beaver Mountain ski resort.
Environmental groups and Miller want that specific list in the bill to ensure the state does not develop sensitive or wilderness areas. However, Garn and Orton want more flexibility.
A compromise passed Thursday would include the list, but also allow trades for any other f3ederal mineral leases or land already identified as disposable. Orton wants even more flexibility to allow trade of any land.
"This got it through the subcommittee today," Owens said. "We need more work to get it through the full committee next week." Little time is left to work out problems, with Congress expected to adjourn next month.
But at least Utah's three House members have worked out their differences and are moving the swap forward, even though they all had once introduced competing bills. "That kind of unanimity is rare for this delegation," Hansen said.
If the bill does not pass this year, officials worry that it never will because a fragile coalition backing it might disappear. The coalition includes Gov. Norm Bangerter, Bush administration officials, Indian and environmental group officials.
Key players on the swap including Bangerter and Garn are retiring this year. And others, including Bush and Owens, are involved in close political races.