Trump plan to strip public land conservation fund gets bipartisan pushback

Trump plan to strip public land conservation fund gets bipartisan pushback
© Stefani Reynolds
Republicans and Democrats pushed back against the Department of the Interior Tuesday, trying to secure funding for popular land conservation program cut under President TrumpDonald John TrumpLiz Cheney: 'Send her back' chant 'inappropriate' but not about race, gender Booker: Trump is 'worse than a racist' Top Democrat insists country hasn't moved on from Mueller MORE’s budget.
 
The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) helps state and local governments secure land for parks and wilderness areas. But the Trump budget gives no money to the fund to acquire new land, instead boosting funds to deal with maintenance backlogs at parks across the country.

“Unfortunately, although the LWCF is now permanently authorized, the program does not have any certainty of funding, as evidenced by the President’s budget proposal, which essentially zeroed out LWCF appropriations,” ranking Democrat Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinPoll: McConnell is most unpopular senator Dems open to killing filibuster in next Congress Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand MORE (D-W.Va.) said during a Senate Energy and Natural Resources hearing on a bipartisan bill he sponsored that would permanently fund the LWCF program. “Permanent funding is the next step Congress must take.”

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People in shirts that read “Save LWCF” have been a regular in the last few months at hearings that deal with public lands and other environmental issues. A House committee advanced a bill last week that would similarly fund the program. 

The LWCF program secured permanent authorization earlier this year in a previous lands package, and the latest legislation to fully fund the program at $900 million a year has bipartisan support. That funding comes from existing development on public lands.

Several senators said the administration is “robbing Peter to pay Paul” by trying to make a dent in a deferred maintenance backlog now around $16 billion. 

“To the extent we're siphoning off these funds for other entirely different purposes that’s really not appropriate,” said Sen. Angus KingAngus Stanley KingPoll: McConnell is most unpopular senator Senate panel advances Pentagon chief, Joint Chiefs chairman nominees Overnight Defense: Highlights from Defense pick's confirmation hearing | Esper spars with Warren over ethics | Sidesteps questions on Mattis vs. Trump | Trump says he won't sell F-35s to Turkey MORE (I-Maine), arguing that money that comes from the land should stay with the land. 

Susan Combs, the Interior’s assistant secretary for policy, management and budget said Interior is obligated to make sure parks are safe to visit.

“We are the land stewards of the stuff we already own,” she said, adding that the growing backlog takes a great deal of her attention.

Some lawmakers are resistant to relinquishing a yearly review of the program, while others are opposed to acquiring more lands for public use in states that already have a high proportion of federal lands.

“I’ve been skeptical of the need to acquire more, and I think many of my colleagues share that skepticism,” said committee Chair Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiPoll: McConnell is most unpopular senator Overnight Defense: Highlights from Defense pick's confirmation hearing | Esper spars with Warren over ethics | Sidesteps questions on Mattis vs. Trump | Trump says he won't sell F-35s to Turkey Epstein charges show Congress must act to protect children from abuse MORE (R-Alaska). “I continue to hold the view that Congress should determine the appropriate level of funding for LWCF and how it should be allocated. We should look at it on a yearly basis, determine its funding levels relative to all of our other needs and priorities.”

Committee Democrats criticized the Trump’s Interior budget to Combs.

Sen. Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoDems open to killing filibuster in next Congress Overnight Defense: Woman accusing general of sexual assault willing to testify | Joint Chiefs pick warns against early Afghan withdrawal | Tensions rise after Iran tries to block British tanker Joint chiefs nominee: Trump's transgender policy about 'standards' MORE (D-Hawaii) said Trump wanted to spend billions on a border wall but would not fund the LWCF program.

“I think it’s very clear what the priorities of this administration are,” she said.