- The Washington Times - Friday, December 27, 2002

The House committee in charge of hundreds of millions of acres of Western land could be led by an Easterner for the first time in a quarter-century, which is worrying some Western Republicans and causing a revolt among others.
New Jersey's Rep. H. James Saxton, with more seniority than any other Republican on the House Resources Committee, is first in line for the job when the new Congress convenes next month.
But Western representatives complain that Mr. Saxton, an Easterner with a moderate voting record on environmental issues, doesn't understand how grazing, mineral and land management decisions made by the committee shape the West's wide-open expanses.
Some Westerners are pushing House leaders to skip Mr. Saxton for less-tenured committee members, such as Rep. Elton Gallegly, California Republican, or Rep. John J. "Jimmy" Duncan Jr., Tennessee Republican. One relative newcomer, Rep. Richard W. Pombo, a conservative rancher from California, is campaigning aggressively for the job.
"Jim's a good friend and a great guy, but he doesn't live in the West and may not understand some of the issues," said Rep. Christopher B. Cannon, Utah Republican.
The last Resources Committee chairman from east of the Mississippi River was Rep. James Haley, Florida Democrat, who held the post from 1973 to 1977.
The committee has jurisdiction over 700 million acres of America's public lands. It oversees national parks and forests, regulates energy development on federal land, manages U.S. rivers, waterways and fisheries, and supervises issues relating to American Indians and U.S. territories.
Mr. Saxton, first elected to the House in 1985, was chairman of the committee's fisheries subcommittee from 1994 to 2000. His spokesman, Jeff Sagnip, said his boss always has been fair to Western members and has made clear to House leaders that he wants a chance to lead the panel.
His opponents have two knocks against Mr. Saxton: where he is from and how he votes.
His New Jersey district has hardly any public land that falls under the committee's jurisdiction. In comparison, 80 percent of Nevada, two-thirds of Utah and more than 60 percent of Idaho are under federal control.
Mr. Saxton frequently has voted with the environmental community, most notably as one of 16 Republicans who opposed the House energy bill that included oil drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. He also voted to strip the refuge drilling authority from the bill.
The League of Conservation Voters said Mr. Saxton cast environmentally friendly votes on 59 percent of the key issues in the 107th Congress, compared with 18 percent for Mr. Gallegly and Mr. Duncan and 9 percent for Mr. Pombo.
Rep. James V. Hansen, Utah Republican and the retiring chairman, voted with environmentalists in 5 percent of key votes. By comparison, the senior Democrat on the panel, Rep. Nick J. Rahall II of West Virginia, sided with environmentalists on 86 percent of key votes.
"It would be a delightful surprise if Jim Saxton were to become chairman of that committee," said Dave Alberswerth, public lands specialist for the Wilderness Society. "But it's pretty clear the Western Republican members of that committee wouldn't ever allow that to happen. He's too green."
Ranking below Mr. Saxton in seniority are Mr. Gallegly and Mr. Duncan, who both have voting records that are more palatable to Western conservatives.
Mr. Gallegly has the benefit of being a Westerner, but Mr. Duncan has been more active on the committee and has won the support of several of the panel's Westerners. His Tennessee district includes the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Cherokee National Forest, so he has some familiarity with public lands issues.

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