The House Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday passed the California Desert Protection Act on a 28-14 vote along party lines.
The swift action, after Senate passage last month, means the full House could take up the legislation before Memorial Day, a committee spokesman said. It is expected to pass easily in the House, which approved a more ambitious desert preservation act in 1991.
The bill, introduced by Chairman George Miller (D-Martinez), is similar to desert protection legislation drafted by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). It would create three national parks and place about 6.3 million acres off-limits to recreational vehicles, mining exploration and new livestock grazing.
Environmentalists expressed disappointment over a provision that would allow cattle grazing to continue indefinitely in the proposed Mojave and Death Valley national parks.
"I don't like the idea of cow pies in our parks," said Marty Hayden of the Sierra Club.
Miller said he is optimistic that the bill, introduced in Congress eight years ago, will be passed by the House and become law soon.