The biggest parks bill in history, authorizing some 150 projects in more than 40 states, passed the House yesterday by a vote of 341 to 61.
The $1.4 billion bill increases development funds for 33 parks, historical sites and seashores, creates 11 new national parks, adds additional segments of seven rivers to the wild and scenic rivers class and designates five new national trails.
The author, Rep. Phillip Burton (D-Calif.), called the omnibus bill one of the most significant environmental measures of the last decade and said it resolved in favor of environmentalists such long-standing controversies as preservations of the Rio Grande and middle Delaware rivers and the Mineral King Valley in California, where Walt Disney Productions had wanted to develop a ski resort.
But the size of the bill, and the fact that it affects so many congressional districts, has led critics to charge that Burton, one of the House's political masterminds, constructed it with an eye toward another possible attempt to become majority leader, a post he lost by one vote to Rep. Jim Wright (D-Tex.) in December 1976.
Burton's legislative wizardry on the bill included cutting the cost by $221 million while adding some key projects by offering "technical amendments" as a block. Technical amendments are usually just minor changes a committee wants to make, but Burton offered and had accepted by voice vote some 70 fairly major changes. The Manassas battlefield park in Virginia was among those affected.
The cost-cutting, dropping the price tag of the bill from $1.6 billion to $1.4 billion, was to appease the administration, which was concerned because it said the bill was $500 million over its budget and contained about $400 million in hidden costs.
The biggest cut was $100 million in an urban parks program the president wanted, but Burton acknowledged the cut was illusory since that amount would not be appropriated this year anyway. Other cuts included a $25 million decrease for the Santa Monica Mountains area, elimination of a Guam national seashore project costing $10 million and $35 million cut in studies for potential parks.
Until now, the House has added to parkland, created new parks or added wilderness areas or wild and scenic river classifications in a piecemeal fashion. But Burton said he put together the omnibus package to "take care of a lot of things that needed doing for a long time."
While most members were pleased to have a park, historic site or park addition to claim, some were not, and the fights on the floor centered on members who felt designations hurt their districts.
Northern New Jersey and Philadelphia members bitterly fought inclusion of the middle Delaware River in the wild and scenic river designation, since it effectively shuts down a pet project of theirs - construction of a dam at Tocks Island that they said is necessary for flood control and to ensure that the upper New Jersey-Pennsylvania areas have water in times of drought. But the amendment to knock out the designation failed Monday by a 275 to 110 vote.
The objectors fared better Tuesday. Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.) succeeded in knocking out the designation of the upper Mississippi as a wild and scenic river. By a 205 to 192 vote be won substitution of a one-year study of the issue by the Interior Department.
Rep. Max Caucus (D-Mont.) succeeded in deleting designations of $1 million acres in Glacier National Park as wilderness, a designation he said would put 94 percent of the Mondtana park in wilderness and prevent building of a chalet to make the back country more accessible to hikers. The vote was 218 to 181.
The House also agreed to reduce from 58,000 acres to 46,000 acres the amount of wilderness designated for Gaudalupe National Park in Texas and agreed to knock out 12,000 acres of wilderness from the Cumberland Gap National Historic Park.
Local area congressmen got projects totaling some $43 million, including the controversial Manassas Park addition being fought by Virginia's two senators, William Scott (R) and Harry Byrd (Ind.).
The bill now goes to the Senate, which is expected to pass a less ambitious measure. Differences will have to be worked out in a House-Senate conference.