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Senate seeks massive permanent boost in conservation funding

Senate seeks massive permanent boost in conservation funding
© Greg Nash

Conservation funding would get a dramatic boost under a coming bill from a bipartisan group of senators following a major policy reversal from President TrumpDonald John TrumpObama slams Trump in Miami: 'Florida Man wouldn't even do this stuff' Trump makes his case in North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin Pence's chief of staff tests positive for COVID-19 MORE

The legislation would permanently direct $900 million in oil and gas revenue to fully fund the popular Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), ensuring resources for a program Trump previously proposed gutting.

“There are very few things that we as legislators do that we can rightly say are permanent. This is one of those things where we're doing something for the people of America and for generations yet unborn that's going to make a real difference,” said Sen. Angus KingAngus KingCollins says running as Independent 'crossed my mind' Susan Collins and the American legacy Coordinated federal leadership is needed for recovery of US travel and tourism MORE (I-Maine).

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“It was said that this is the most important piece of conservation legislation in 50 years. I think it may even go beyond that," he added.

LWCF funds a variety of conservation efforts, such as securing land for parks. The legislation would be paired with a revived bill offering up $6.5 billion to address a more than $12 billion maintenance backlog at national parks. The bills could come to the floor as early as next week.

After years of similar efforts, an election-year reversal from Trump is giving lawmakers new momentum. 

Despite suggesting cutting LWCF funds by as much as 97 percent year after year, including in his most recent budget proposal, Trump on Tuesday called for a bill to fully fund the program.

His Tuesday tweet specifically thanked Sen. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerTrump expressed doubt to donors GOP can hold Senate: report The Hill's Campaign Report: 2020 spending wars | Biden looks to clean up oil comments | Debate ratings are in Democrats seek to block appeal of court ruling ousting Pendley, BLM land plans MORE (R-Colo.), whose Senate seat is considered one of the most vulnerable of the 2020 election cycle. Sen. Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesDemocrat trails by 3 points in Montana Senate race: poll Poll shows statistical tie in Montana Senate race Power players play chess match on COVID-19 aid MORE (R-Mont.) could also face a tough reelection campaign if former Montana Gov. Steve BullockSteve BullockInterior says Pendley to remain at BLM despite 'dramatic tweets' from Democrats Democrat trails by 3 points in Montana Senate race: poll Poll shows statistical tie in Montana Senate race MORE (D) enters the race, as reported by The New York Times. 

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“While some may want to dwell on politics, I’m going to dwell on the good [that] the great outdoors does for the American people,” Gardner said at a press conference, flanked by 11 other lawmakers. 

With each lawmaker stressing the bipartisan backing behind the two pieces of legislation — 68 senators have signed on to the previous versions of one or both bills — Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinSusan Collins and the American legacy Democrats seem unlikely to move against Feinstein Push to expand Supreme Court faces Democratic buzzsaw MORE (D-W.Va.) defended Garner’s long-held interest.

“When we drafted the bill, Cory was the first one to take the lead,” Manchin said. “We’re in a situation where we’re in a crossroads right now. In our lifetime this has never happened. So we got to take advantage of this.”

“So, politics be damned. Let’s get it done," he said.

Since it was created in 1964, the LWCF has supported more than 42,000 projects, bolstering parks and expanding acres of conservation areas.

While the program was made permanent last year, its funding was not. And though lawmakers have repeatedly rejected Trump’s suggestion to massively defund the program, they have not succeeded in fully funding it, instead securing about $450 million last year.

Lawmakers seemed confident this year would be different given both presidential and bipartisan support. 

“We have more than enough votes to move beyond anybody who raises an objection,” Gardner said.

Lawmakers said they were able to convince Trump to reverse his opinion after a meeting where they showed pictures of various landscapes from their states that had benefited from LWCF money. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump expressed doubt to donors GOP can hold Senate: report Senators battle over Supreme Court nominee in rare Saturday session Sunday shows preview: Trump, Biden gear up for final sprint to Election Day MORE (R-Ky.) has agreed to fast-track the legislation.

“Somehow somebody worked a miracle,” Sen. Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellDemocrats seem unlikely to move against Feinstein Hillicon Valley: Senate panel votes to subpoena Big Tech executives | Amazon says over 19,000 workers tested positive for COVID-19 | Democrats demand DHS release report warning of election interference Senate panel votes to subpoena Big Tech executives MORE (D-Wash.) said, “because now all of a sudden a White House who hasn't been for land and water conservation funds ... is now seeing the light that this is a great economic investment for the future.”