1082 pages.

$3 billion in earmarks.

At least 8.8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 300 million barrels of oil off limits.

Congress is at it again. In an attempt to squeeze an omnibus package during the lame-duck session, Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid said that beginning November 17th a debate over a public lands bill that includes 160 pieces of legislation will take place.

The bill contains ridiculous earmarks such as $3.5 million to celebrate the 450th birthday of St. Augustine Florida in 2015 and $5 million on botanical gardens in Hawaii and Florida.

Now, I’m as big of fan of botanical gardens as the next guy, but is this really how we should be allocating taxpayer dollars?

Even more alarming is the more than 100 different land-grab bills (bills allowing federal government to take ownership of land) that would restrict access to valuable energy resources including oil shale areas. The reality is that the federal government already owns 650 million acres of land, including 85% of Nevada, 69% of Alaska, 57% of Utah, 53% of Oregon. Basically, the government owns the West.

Strange Maps has a great map of the United States and the percentage of federally owned land here. Does the government really need more?

An estimated 1.2 trillion to 1.8 trillion barrels of oil is available in the Green River Formation, an area which expands through most of Colorado and parts of Utah and Wyoming.  Although not all the land would not be taken by the government under the bill,  recoverable oil refined from oil shale would provide another resource for fuel production. According to the U.S. Department of Interior and Bureau of Land Management, a moderate estimate of 800 billion barrels of recoverable oil from oil shale in the Green River Formation is three times greater than the proven oil reserves of Saudi Arabia.

Senator Reid recently tried to sneak an oil shale ban in a bill in the midst of the financial crisis. Bundling all the spending projects in an omnibus package makes it difficult for Senators to vote against it if it includes a project for their respective state. But Senator Tom Coburn is standing against it:

Congress’ approval ratings are at an all-time low because the American people understand that never before in our nation’s history have the priorities of the United States Congress been more at odds with the priorities of the American people. The majority’s willingness to spend a week or more debating a lands bill loaded with frivolous projects and radical environmental provisions when we are facing our greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression is a case study in Congress’ misplaced priorities.”

We should remember that, even though we are facing a financial crisis, energy prices are still high. I’ve posted this quote from our Senior Policy Analyst Ben Lieberman before, but it’s worth mentioning again:

Good energy policy is easy to distinguish from bad energy policy: Good policy leads to more supplies of affordable energy, and bad policy leads to less.”

We need as much supply as we can get and this bill is taking energy resources off the table. Only in Washington.