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Senate passes major lands conservation bill

The Senate passed a major public lands bill on Wednesday, voting to set aside hundreds of millions of dollars each year for conservation efforts.

The Great American Outdoors Act, which passed in a 73-25 vote, would permanently provide $900 million in oil and gas revenues for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which helps secure land for trails and parks.

The legislation will also put $6.5 billion toward addressing a maintenance backlog at national parks.

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“Permanent LWCF funding will help improve access to public lands, including providing important access for hunting and fishing opportunities, and will ensure the program remains an important contributor to a strong and growing outdoor recreation economy that will benefit state and local economies throughout our nation,” Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinHouse Democrats pass sweeping .9T COVID-19 relief bill with minimum wage hike Democrats scramble to rescue minimum wage hike White House noncommittal on 'Plan B' push to add wage increase to relief bill MORE (D-W.Va.), who was part of a bipartisan group that introduced the bill, said in a floor speech. 

The bill, which has broad bipartisan support, now heads to the House.

The lower chamber is expected to take up the bill by July 4, according to a senior Democratic aide. 

The legislation also recently secured the backing of President TrumpDonald TrumpBiden to hold virtual bilateral meeting with Mexican president More than 300 charged in connection to Capitol riot Trump Jr.: There are 'plenty' of GOP incumbents who should be challenged MORE, who in earlier budgets proposed cutting the conservation fund by about 97 percent.

The election year reversal stands to benefit two particularly vulnerable Republican senators — Cory GardnerCory GardnerBiden administration reverses Trump changes it says 'undermined' conservation program Gardner to lead new GOP super PAC ahead of midterms OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Court rules against fast-track of Trump EPA's 'secret science' rule | Bureau of Land Management exodus: Agency lost 87 percent of staff in Trump HQ relocation | GM commits to electric light duty fleet by 2035 MORE (Colo.) and Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesIndigenous groups post billboards urging senators to confirm Deb Haaland Kennedy apologizes for calling Haaland a 'whack job' The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by The AIDS Institute - Ahead: One-shot vax, easing restrictions, fiscal help MORE (Mont.) — who are chief backers of the bill and who Trump cited when announcing his support.

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"I am calling on Congress to send me a Bill that fully and permanently funds the LWCF and restores our National Parks," Trump tweeted in March. "When I sign it into law, it will be HISTORIC for our beautiful public lands. ALL thanks to @SenCoryGardner and @SteveDaines, two GREAT Conservative Leaders!"

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump at CPAC foments 2022 GOP primary wars Hawley gets boisterous ovation at CPAC for Electoral College objection   Why Congress must invoke the 14th Amendment now MORE (R-Ky.) has pushed back on the notion that the legislation was intended to boost the vulnerable incumbents in November.

“It’s in proximity to the election, but nobody said you ought to quit doing things just because there’s an election,” he told reporters this month.

Securing permanent funding for the LWCF caps a multiyear effort to shore up funding to preserve vast stretches of U.S. wilderness for recreation.

The program secured permanent authorization last year, but its funding was never guaranteed.

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“This legislation affects all four corners of Colorado, but it also affects every part of this country,” said Gardner. “From sea to shining sea, ... The Great American Outdoors Act will provide billions of dollars in opportunity for recreation.”

Billions of dollars in repairs to National Park System have been delayed because of budget constraints.

As of 2018, that backlog consisted of nearly $12 billion worth of deferred repairs. 

Republicans who opposed the legislation raised concerns about the cost of taking care of the maintenance backlog as well as spending the oil and gas revenues on the LWCF.

“It’s expensive, shortsighted and it’s wrong,” said Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Key vote for Haaland's confirmation | Update on oil and gas leasing | SEC update on climate-related risk disclosure requirements Haaland on drilling lease moratorium: 'It's not going to be a permanent thing' Overnight Health Care: US surpasses half a million COVID deaths | House panel advances Biden's .9T COVID-19 aid bill | Johnson & Johnson ready to provide doses for 20M Americans by end of March MORE (R-Utah).

He argued that the money coming from oil and gas “is currently going to the United States Treasury to pay for a number of other costs ... and will only add to our already ballooning national debt.”

Some lawmakers also had wished there was an amendment process. 

"There are things that we can do to improve this bill," said Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiGraham: Trump will 'be helpful' to all Senate GOP incumbents The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by The AIDS Institute - Senate ref axes minimum wage, House votes today on relief bill Republicans see Becerra as next target in confirmation wars MORE (R-Alaska), who supported the bill. “I think I’ve got some very common sense ideas to expand the bill to include conservation-related priorities, priorities that make sense for Alaska, priorities that make sense for our states across the country.”