Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, led a GOP attack on the House floor Wednesday that unsuccessfully tried to stop what Republicans said is Democrats' misuse of wilderness laws to block a proposed liquefied natural gas port on a Massachusetts river.
Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., persuaded the House to pass on a largely party-line vote of 242-175 his bill to declare the Taunton River as a "Wild and Scenic River," essentially making the Taunton and its banks a wet, federal wilderness area.
Bishop, as ranking Republican on a subcommittee that oversees public lands, charged that Frank pushed the bill just to block the proposed natural gas port he dislikes. Bishop said urban portions of the river are heavily industrialized and should not be declared wild.
"This bill is very clearly an abuse of the Wild and Scenic River (Act) language," Bishop said, arguing the law was intended to preserve pristine wild rivers from human structures not the industrial parks existing on parts of the Taunton.
He added, "The only part of this river that is scenic is the graffiti that is found on the bridges and human embankments that are part of this river system. The only thing that's wild about this river are the gangs that wrote this graffiti in the first place. ... It's not wild and scenic if you can look over and see McDonald's on the bank."
Bishop added that Frank's bill would block "the development of domestic energy infrastructure at absolutely the worst time."
Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., added, "If this qualifies as a wild and scenic river ... then downtown Manhattan can be a national forest and Six Flags (an amusement park) can be a national park."
Frank said the bill was not about blocking the port, which he contended was already dead. He said the designation would help communities control redevelopment of riverbank areas as old industries close, and cities try to improve recreation.Bishop attempted to amend the bill to remove sections of the river that are in urban areas where the port has been proposed. That died on a 189-235 vote. The House-passed bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.