In another House-engineered setback for the environment, the compromise budget approved by Congress and the White House prohibits the Interior Department from spending any money to carry out a policy protecting unspoiled federal lands.
…The amendment, like much from the House, was based on demagoguery. Western Republicans claimed the policy would pre-empt Congress’s right to designate permanent wilderness on federal lands. That isn’t true. What the Interior Department does, and has done until Ms. Norton came along, is identify lands with “wilderness characteristics” and manage them carefully — preventing rampant motorized vehicle use, for instance — until Congress can decide whether they deserve permanent protection.
…We don’t know if there is a way around the restriction. We do know that Mr. Salazar and the White House should begin pressing now to ensure that the next budget lifts the ban and provides the Interior Department the money to set aside fragile lands for future generations.