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Lawmakers race against the clock to pass Mt. Hood bill

Congress has at least one week left in session

Although U.S. Congress is in recess for the election season, the Oregon congressional delegation will work throughout its 'break' to make a Mount Hood wilderness bill law before the end of the session.

Congressmen Greg Walden and Earl Blumenauer successfully saw passage of their Mount Hood Stewardship Legacy Act - which would designate 77,000 acres of land around Mount Hood as federally protected wilderness and institute a number of other stewardship measures - in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Senators Ron Wyden and Gordon Smith introduced their own Mount Hood bill before a congressional panel Wednesday, Sept. 27. Their bill, which seeks to designate more than 128,000 acres as wilderness, must now be reconciled with the House bill.

Congress will reconvene in a 'lame duck' session after the elections, on Nov. 13, for at least a week. By the time the lawmakers return to Washington, the Oregon delegation hopes it will be ready to quickly pass the wilderness bill.

'It's going to be challenging,' said Wyden spokesman Geoff Stuckert. 'But they very much want it to happen and are working very hard to make it happen.'

Both bills face the possibility of dying at the end of the year. If the Senate and the House don't approve a reconciled bill by the end of the year, both legislative bodies would have to reintroduce the act at the beginning of the next congress.

'It's seldom seen in Congress that an entire state delegation agrees on such an important concept, but we're almost there,' Smith said. 'I hope that we will be able to make the final adjustments and get it passed before the end of the year.'

Last week the plans faced their first hurdle when the U.S. Government Accountability Office declared that the property appraisals in a proposed Hood River County land swap embedded in the plans were faulty.

When Wyden and Smith introduced their bill Wednesday, the plan received another blow from Mark Rey, the undersecretary of agriculture, who testified that the Bush Administration did not support any more than 55,000 acres of new wilderness on the mountain.

'During the Senate hearing, after (Rey) testified that, Sen. Smith asked them if that meant there was a veto threat,' said Julia Pomeroy, Blumenauer's chief of staff. 'They apparently said, 'No, no, no.' I can't imagine any veto passed in the House or Senate against protecting Mount Hood. The president's only used one veto.'