Focus shifts to House after Senate passes major public lands bill

Focus shifts to House after Senate passes major public lands bill
© Bonnie Cash

Eyes are on the House after the Senate passed a major conservation bill on Wednesday. 

The upper chamber approved the Great American Outdoors Act, which would provide $900 million annually for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), in a 73-25 vote. 

It would also provide $6.5 billion in funding to address a maintenance backlog at national parks. 

ADVERTISEMENT

The legislation has broad bipartisan and bicameral support, and earlier this month it was introduced in the House, which will take up the legislation before July 4, a senior Democratic aide told The Hill in an email on Wednesday. 

Rep. Joe CunninghamJoseph CunninghamMultiple lawmakers self-quarantine after exposure to Gohmert Hoyer: Maskless Republicans a public health threat Gohmert tests positive for COVID-19 MORE (D-S.C.), who was part of the bipartisan group that introduced the companion bill, released a statement Wednesday calling for a vote. 

“At a time when our country needs it the most, this bipartisan legislation will deliver jobs to communities across the country, protect recreational access, preserve historic sites, and restore aging national park and public land infrastructure,” he said. “I urge House leadership to bring the Great American Outdoors Act to a vote on the House floor as soon as possible.”

On the other side of the aisle, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt also called for a vote in a series of tweets. 

President TrumpDonald John TrumpJoe Arpaio loses bid for his old position as sheriff Trump brushes off view that Russia denigrating Biden: 'Nobody's been tougher on Russia than I have' Trump tees up executive orders on economy but won't sign yet MORE "took bold action & provided unprecedented support for Congress to fix the aging infrastructure @NatlParkService and to permanently fund conservation projects,” he wrote. “It’s now time for the House to move this commonsense solution forward.”

Bernhardt singled out House Natural Resources Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), tweeting, “Failure to move with dispatch to get this legislation enacted would be unconscionable.”

ADVERTISEMENT

However, since the Natural Resources panel already marked up two prior bills that the new legislation is based on, the committee is not expected to play an additional role in the legislation’s passage. 

The administration’s display of support for the measures follows a reversal from Trump, who earlier this year proposed slashing the LWCF, which provides money for conservation initiatives such as securing lands for national parks, by about 97 percent. 

He later changed his mind, calling on Congress to pass a bill that fully funds the LWCF, and gave shout-outs to Sens. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerFrom a Republican donor to Senate GOP: Remove marriage penalty or risk alienating voters The US military has options against China McConnell goes hands-off on coronavirus relief bill MORE (R-Colo.) and Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesFrom a Republican donor to Senate GOP: Remove marriage penalty or risk alienating voters The Hill's Campaign Report: COVID-19 puts conventions in flux  OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump signs major conservation bill into law | Senate votes to confirm Energy's No. 2 official | Trump Jr. expresses opposition to Pebble Mine project MORE (R-Mont.), both of whom face tough reelection races this year. 

Gardner and Daines, who were among the chief backers of the Senate legislation, pushed back on the notion that November's vote played a role in their actions. 

“This is not about politics. Montanans love the outdoors. I grew up fishing, hiking, hunting. I still do it today, and understand the importance of public access,” Daines told reporters on a press call. “This is the culmination of years and years of work.”

“I think it’s had everything to do with good policy and the fact that the Great American Outdoor Act is going to create jobs and opportunity across the country,” Gardner said.

their Senate challengers didn’t see it that way. 

“I am glad that the Senate finally followed through on permanent, full-funding for the LWCF and addressed the backlog of maintenance for our public lands,” Montana governor and Daines challenger Steve BullockSteve BullockRepublicans uncomfortably playing defense 300 green groups say Senate has 'moral duty' to reject Trump's public lands nominee Lincoln Project targets Senate races in Alaska, Maine, Montana with M ad buy MORE (D) said in a statement. “While I also applaud Steve Daines' efforts in helping get this across the finish line, Montanans deserve leadership that stands up for public lands and the best interests of the people of our state every day — not just in election years.

And Colorado Democratic Party Chairwoman Morgan Carroll accused Gardner of “election-year greenwashing” in a statement, adding that he “has shown resolute support for President Trump’s anti-environment, anti-science agenda.”