By BRUCE NOBLE
So the election is over and the dust is beginning to settle. And yet so much remains unclear. For example, what will happen to the long-suffering CORE Act? Also of critical importance, what if the CORE Act fails to pass by the time this session of Congress ends on Jan. 3, 2023 and then has to be reintroduced in a House of Representatives that will be controlled by the Republicans?
Although much remains to be sorted out, we do know that great fanfare accompanied President Biden’s designation of Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument on Oct. 12. Some work still needs to be done to fully protect this area, but the national monument designation represents huge progress on one of the cornerstone pieces of the CORE Act. Yet the other three pieces of the act — the Thompson Divide, San Juan Wilderness, and long-awaited legislation for Curecanti National Recreation Area — seem to be lost somewhere in legislative limbo. Rest assured that the last act of this congressional drama still remains to be played out in our nation’s capital, but the clock is ticking.
What’s the urgency, you might ask? The simple answer is that the 117th Congress ends on Jan. 3 and if the CORE Act doesn’t pass by then, it will have to be reintroduced during the next Congress. There are those who seem to see reintroduction of the CORE Act as no big deal. For my part, I am not so sure.
We already know that the Republicans will have a small majority in the House of Representatives once the 118th Congress begins in January. It is possible that a few Republicans might agree to support reintroduction of the CORE Act, but I wouldn’t count on it going anywhere. Granted, the Democrats could have a slightly more favorable position in the Senate in the next Congress, but that will do the CORE Act no good if it can’t pass after being reintroduced in a Republican controlled House. In my book, the future of the CORE Act seems crystal clear. The time to act is now.
What might the path forward look like right now? During the May 3, 2022 Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee hearing, the Committee deadlocked on a 10-10 party-line vote. Although it would be nice to think that maybe one Republican on the committee might have had a change of heart after the recent election, I don’t see that happening. With the holidays approaching, there are just a limited number of days that the Senate will be in session before Jan. 3. I don’t find it likely that another Committee hearing would be scheduled during the limited time remaining in this Congress. And although there is a very narrow path by which the CORE Act might still come to the Senate floor based on the 10-10 vote last May, complex Senate rules would seem to preclude the possibility of the CORE Act actually getting a vote by the full Senate before Jan. 3.
Another option would involve adding the CORE Act as an amendment to another piece of legislation. Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper gamely tried this strategy back in late September when they proposed to append the CORE Act to the National Defense Authorization Act. Their amendment is still pending in the Senate, but the fate of their valiant effort remains uncertain. There may be other similar opportunities, but Congress doesn’t tend to look favorably on amending legislation with unrelated provisions.
To me, the obvious solution is an omnibus public lands bill. At the end of every Congress, there are always various pieces of relatively non-controversial public lands legislation that haven’t been enacted. It isn’t unusual to bundle them all together in one package that gets passed at the end of a legislative session. This seems like the best formula for passing the CORE Act during this Congress.
Honestly though, I don’t really care what mechanism Congress chooses. I just want to see the CORE Act passed. Polling data has repeatedly shown that the majority of Coloradoans support the CORE Act. Although some like to claim otherwise, the truth is that the CORE Act has been vetted over and over again in local communities in a successful effort to win local support. Waiting for the next Congress raises the distinct possibility that a Republican controlled House of Representatives would kill the CORE Act. C’mon Congress, let’s pass the CORE Act now. Colorado cannot take a chance on leaving this popular and important piece of business unfinished after Jan. 3.
Bruce Noble retired after serving a 33-year career with the National Park Service. He was most recently the superintendent for Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and Curecanti National Recreation Area near Gunnison.