The Senate reached tentative agreement Thursday on a sweeping federal parks expansion and improvements bill, one of the last obstacles to congressional adjournment.
The compromise resolved a dispute over logging in Alaska's Tongass Forest in Alaska.The bill, which already has passed the House, was expected to win unanimous Senate approval. It has provisions to benefit 113 parks, monuments and other properties in the national parks system and would create or expand scores of new parks, heritage trails and historic monuments in 41 states.
In the dispute over the Tongass Forest, Sen. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, sought a provision to modify a logging contract affecting a pulp mill in the forest.
"The bill will pass, it will go to the White House and the president will sign it," Murkowski told reporters, calling the legislation "undoubtedly the most important environmental bill" during his 16 years in the Senate.
The Clinton administration had threatened to veto the bill if it would lead to expanded logging in the Tongass.
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., said the arrangement satisfied both Murkowski and the administration. "He's made some major concessions. But we were able to reach an agreement . . . that he could accept and the administration could accept and we're all comfortable with it," Lott said.
The legislation has scores of provision with widespread support. Among them:
- Establishment of a trust to preserve the Presidio, a former army base in San Francisco that has been taken over by the Park Service but under the new plan would be managed with help from private interests.
- Creation of the nation's first protected tallgrass prairie in Kansas.
- Authorization for protection of the Sterling Forest, a critical watershed in New York and New Jersey that environmentalists have feared otherwise might be opened for development.
- Creation of a historic trail commemorating the Selma-to-Mont-gomery civil rights march led by Dr. Martin Luther King.
The bill also would expand and make boundary adjustments in scores of parks and create new heritage areas. The bill also provides for a land exchange needed for the 2002 Winter Olympics near Snowbasin, Utah, and protects a small band of wild horses in Missouri.
Earlier, by a 92-2 vote, the Senate approved an FAA bill to authorize new airport construction and security measures for the next two years.
The overwhelming support for the bill came after Democrats held it up for days in an acrimonious dispute over whether Federal Express had been given a special-interest favor to help it keep workers from organizing.
The negative votes were cast by Sens. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., and Paul Simon, D-Ill.
Final action came after the Senate voted 66-31, six more than the 60 votes needed, to cut off the debate that has immobilized the Senate since Monday.
Backlog of nominees
The Senate still is at odds over a backlog of Clinton administration judicial nominees that has irked Democrats for months. Democrats accuse Republicans of playing politics. But the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, insists that "any objective observer, considering the record rather than the rhetoric, would conclude that this Congress has moved President Clinton's judicial nominations in a fair and responsible manner." The Senate has confirmed 17 Clinton judges this session - fewer than have been approved in any election year going back to 1976. Action awaits on 28 others. In 1992, a Democrat-controlled Senate approved 66 judges nominated by President Bush.