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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 TrumpVeteran accused in alleged border wall scheme faces new charges Arizona Republicans to brush off DOJ concern about election audit FEC drops investigation into Trump hush money payments 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 KingDC mayor admitted to Democratic governors group amid statehood fight Democrats fret over Biden spending Schumer works to balance a divided caucus's demands 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 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 (R-Colo.), whose Senate seat is considered one of the most vulnerable of the 2020 election cycle. Sen. Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesHillicon Valley: DOJ to review cyber challenges | Gaetz, House Republicans want to end funding for postal service surveillance | TikTok gets new CEO Senators introduce bipartisan bill to protect personal travel data Wyden-Paul bill would close loophole allowing feds to collect private data MORE (R-Mont.) could also face a tough reelection campaign if former Montana Gov. Steve BullockSteve BullockOvernight Energy: Climate Summit Day 2 — Biden says US will work with other countries on climate innovation Biden announces picks to lead oceans, lands agencies Biden set to pick conservation advocate for top land management role 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 ManchinJoe ManchinManchin touts rating as 'most bipartisan senator' Bowser on Manchin's DC statehood stance: He's 'not right' It's Joe Manchin vs the progressives on infrastructure 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.

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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 McConnellMcConnell: Taliban could take over Afghanistan by 'the end of the year' McConnell alma mater criticizes him for 1619 comments McConnell amid Trump criticism: 'I'm looking forward, not backward' MORE (R-Ky.) has agreed to fast-track the legislation.

“Somehow somebody worked a miracle,” Sen. Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellWill Biden's NASA win the space race with China? Bill Nelson is a born-again supporter of commercial space at NASA Biden looks to bolster long-term research and development 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.”