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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 TrumpIran convicts American businessman on spying charge: report DC, state capitals see few issues, heavy security amid protest worries Pardon-seekers have paid Trump allies tens of thousands to lobby president: NYT 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 KingAngus King warns of 'grave danger' of Trump revealing classified information Senate Democrats leery of nixing filibuster 'Almost Heaven, West Virginia' — Joe Manchin and a 50-50 Senate 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 GardnerOvernight Defense: Joint Chiefs denounce Capitol attack | Contractors halt donations after siege | 'QAnon Shaman' at Capitol is Navy vet Lobbying world Senate swears-in six new lawmakers as 117th Congress convenes MORE (R-Colo.), whose Senate seat is considered one of the most vulnerable of the 2020 election cycle. Sen. Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesMcConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time McConnell says he's undecided on whether to vote to convict Trump Member of Senate GOP leadership: Impeaching Trump 'not going to happen' MORE (R-Mont.) could also face a tough reelection campaign if former Montana Gov. Steve BullockSteve BullockBiden's identity politics do a disservice to his nominees Senate Democrat: Party's message to rural voters is 'really flawed' Ducey to lead Republican governors 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) ManchinBiden tax-hike proposals face bumpy road ahead Senate Democrats leery of nixing filibuster Manchin: Removing Hawley, Cruz with 14th Amendment 'should be a consideration' 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 McConnellGraham calls on Schumer to hold vote to dismiss article of impeachment against Trump Rove: Chances of conviction rise if Giuliani represents Trump in Senate impeachment trial Boebert communications director resigns amid Capitol riot: report MORE (R-Ky.) has agreed to fast-track the legislation.

“Somehow somebody worked a miracle,” Sen. Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellHillicon Valley: Texas, other states bring antitrust lawsuit against Google | Krebs emphasizes security of the election as senators butt heads | Twitter cracks down on coronavirus vaccine misinformation Senators press federal agencies for more information on Russian cyberattack New FCC commissioner's arrival signals gridlock early next year 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.”