In An Election Year, 2 Vulnerable GOP Senators Are Suddenly Conservationists
Public land activists and a handful of lawmakers have long pushed for full and permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a federal program launched in 1964 that uses offshore oil and gas revenues to build parks, wildlife sanctuaries, forests, and wildlife habitats to protect .
But anti-state conservatives, horrified by the thought that more money will be used to expand and improve federal property, have always stood in the way. The program has only been funded twice in its history with the legally permitted $ 900 million.
Now two vulnerable Republicans are among those campaigning for a bipartisan conservation law that would fund the LWCF permanently and fully and provide $ 9.5 billion to address the growing maintenance backlog in American national parks. Sens. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) And Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Co-sponsors of the bill, are demanding recognition for the win after the bill was brought forward this week with 80-17 votes. A final adoption vote is expected early next week.
"We're about to pass the most historic conservation laws in 50 years," said Daines during a press conference on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. "And isn't it ironic that public land is needed to bring a divided government and nation together?"
Senator Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) Speaks to reporters in the Capitol after a press conference on the Land and Water Protection Fund on March 4. (Photo: Caroline Brehman via Getty Images)
In March, Daines and Gardner announced that they had turned around President Donald Trump, a long-time enemy of the LWCF who has worked to weaken security measures for nearly 35 million hectares of land. The Trump administration's budget proposal for 2020 envisaged cutting funding for the LWCF from $ 156 million to just $ 7.6 million.
During a February White House meeting, Gardner Trump said that the passing of a law on public land was the greatest conservation benefit since President Theodore Roosevelt founded national parks, shelters, and forests across the country in the early 20th century. This was reported by the New York Times Week. Calling Roosevelt appeared to be all it took to get the President to change his mind. Trump's Home Office has said it will create "a conservation administration legacy that only Teddy Roosevelt is inferior to." a bold statement that just doesn't correspond to reality.
Trump was not shy about who, in his opinion, should receive recognition for this moment.
"I'm asking Congress to send me a bill that will fully and permanently fund the LWCF and restore our national parks," Trump wrote in a March post on Twitter. “If I sign it legally, it will be HISTORICAL for our beautiful public areas. EVERYTHING thanks to @SenCoryGardner and @SteveDaines, two GREAT conservative leaders! "
He and his team will certainly pass this message on until November.
Secretary David Bernhardt
As someone who grew up in Rifle Colorado, thank @SenCoryGardner for your guidance and steadfast support of our public areas and national parks!
9:03 p.m. - June 9, 2020
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"These victories didn't happen magically overnight."
Both Daines and Gardner are relatively new to the LWCF and do not have particularly notable environmental records - they have lifetime values of 6% and 11%, respectively, from the League of Conservation Voters.
Gardner, who was a member of the House of Representatives in 2011, voted for a budget change that would have drastically cut the LWCF's already low funding. In 2015, Daines voted against renewed approval of the program. And in June 2018, hours after attending a press conference calling for full and permanent LWCF funding, they both voted in favor of a spending cut package that included $ 16 million in U.S. Forest Service LWCF funding would have shortened.
Environmentalists and public area advocates have welcomed the recent work of the two legislators at the LWCF and seized the opportunity to secure ongoing program funding, but it's hard not to see Trump's newfound support as a gift to two senate allies who are facing hard work Reelection offers are available. Daines faces Montana Democratic Governor and former 2020 presidential candidate Steve Bullock, and Gardner is likely to face former Colorado governor and 2020 presidential candidate John Hickenlooper. In an appeal, Gardner was named the most vulnerable Republican senator in 2020.
"It is a desperate attempt to convince voters that they don't work for businesses and that they care what the Americans care about," said Jayson O'Neill, director of the Western Values Project, the public area surveillance group .
The oil and gas sector was one of the top five industries that Daines and Gardner have contributed to over the course of their careers, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics.
Senator Cory Gardner (L) and Senator Steve Daines (R) face difficult paths to re-election in 2020. (Photo: Zach Gibson via Getty Images)
In a speech on Tuesday in the Senate, Senator John Tester (D-Mont.) Described the LWCF as "the most important conservation tool we have at the federal level" and as a major driver of the emerging outdoor leisure industry in Montana. He also stressed that he and others - groups like Montana Trout Unlimited and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers as well as Sens. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Richard Burr (RN.C.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) And Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) - has been struggling for full and sustainable funding for more than a decade.
"These victories didn't happen magically overnight," he said. “The fact is that we have worked with local conservation groups and public land enthusiasts across the country for a long and intensive time to build support where it has never been. And our years of work finally broke the dam earlier this year when President Trump and Senator McConnell reversed their opposition to this legislation because of the overwhelming bipartisan dynamic that we have built on the ground. I welcome her change of heart. "
Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Another long-time LWCF champion, told HuffPost this week that many people were surprised by Trump's sudden reversal. "But I say let's take this opportunity - this is a historic opportunity to realize the LWCF's vision and we should take it," he said in an email.
Udall added that the LWCF was a non-partisan creation - his father, former Home Secretary Stewart Udall, played a major role in setting up the program - and he looks forward to being supported by two parties so many years later.
"There will be a time and place for politics and campaigns soon enough," he said. “We will continue to talk about the government's endless attacks on nature conservation, our public land, and the environment. But now we're just doing it for the American people. "
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The Flathead National Forest in western Montana is one of hundreds of projects across the country funded by the Land and Water Conservation Fund. (Photo: Danita Delimont via Getty Images)
Record against rhetoric
Efforts to promote fossil fuel extraction, mining, and other developments have dominated the Trump administration's public land policies, often to the detriment of conservation.
The government has led the largest rollback of national monuments in U.S. history, worked out more than 2 million acres from two protected national monuments in Utah, and opened a 5,000-square-mile marine reserve off the east coast for commercial fishing last week. It has weakened key conservation laws to protect land, water and air, including the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. And it has repeatedly picked up anti-state advocates and even tapped fierce state management critics for powerful government posts.
Gardner and Daines appear to have supported Trump and his anti-conservation agenda at every turn. Daines even signaled that he would support William Perry Pendley, the acting director of the Bureau of Land Management, who has extreme environmental attitudes and has spent his career campaigning for state sales if Trump officially posts him for the post should nominate. Gardner has so far avoided taking a stand on Pendley, but has touted his relationship with Trump and his own role in the government's controversial decision to move BLM headquarters to Colorado.
"These things happen because President Trump and I work together for Colorado," Gardner said at a Trump rally in Colorado Springs in February.
The protection of public property and its maintenance under federal control has proven to be a successful platform in western states. The LWCF is also extremely popular - 74% of Americans support full funding of the program, according to a 2018 National Wildlife Federation survey.
Daines and Gardner seem to have recognized that they need a conservation victory to point to the 2020 elections. It remains to be seen whether this will give them the boost they need to secure another term in office.
Jessica Goad, deputy director of Conservation Colorado, said she was "excited" by the public property bill, and Gardner and Daines deserve recognition. However, she stressed that environmental leadership requires much more than the support of the LWCF, and noted that Gardner has not yet supported the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act (CORE Act), which would protect approximately 400,000 acres of public land in the state. An analysis of her group last year found that Gardner voted against the environment 85% of the time since becoming senator.
"Colorado voters are really smart," said Goad. "They are well informed about the environment and I think the adoption of the LWCF is just the beginning for voters."
In an interview with E&E News earlier this week, a spokeswoman for Gardner's campaign accused Democrats "more interested in playing politics than protecting public lands" and trying "to distract from the fact that Gardner is doing something." has what they haven't done for decades ".
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This article originally appeared on HuffPost.
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