House passes major conservation bill, sending it to Trump’s desk
The House on Wednesday approved a major public lands conservation bill, sending it to the White House, where President Trump is expected to sign it into law.
The measure passed in a 310-107 vote.
The bill, known as the Great American Outdoors Act, would provide $900 million in federal oil and gas revenues for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which helps secure land for trails and parks.
The bipartisan legislation would also put billions toward addressing a maintenance backlog at national parks over a five-year period.
“For too long we have allowed our national parks to fall into disrepair,” said Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) on the House floor ahead of the vote. “At the same time, we have failed to meet the full promise of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. … Today we take the opportunity to remedy both of those failures.”
Though it had bipartisan support, the bill met resistance from some Republicans who argued that funds from oil and gas revenues could be put to other uses.
“‘Quick. There’s a global pandemic. Let’s spend billions of dollars repairing fences, putting up new signs, fixing toilets at our wildlife refuges, parks and forests,’ said no one ever,” Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.) said Wednesday before the vote. “What this legislation does is it takes everything else and it puts it on the back burner.”
Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) this week also expressed concern that funding could dry up at times when there are fewer oil and gas revenues.
“It would be ludicrous for House Democrats to move forward with this bill without amendment,” he said in a statement, citing a report that showed that the government had taken in less money from offshore oil and gas drilling amid the pandemic.
Bishop, the top Republican on the Natural Resources panel, said he supports the national parks portion of the legislation but opposes its LWCF provisions. On Wednesday, he criticized the measure as putting money for new parks ahead of taking care of existing national parks since only the LWCF funding is mandatory.
“Now we are also saying in this bill the billion dollars of money to buy more land is now also a priority above and beyond what’s happening for the parks,” he said.
The House legislation was spearheaded by a bipartisan group of 12 lawmakers and is popular among environmentalists. If the bill becomes law, it will end a years-long effort to ensure funding to preserve vast stretches of wilderness for recreation.
“This bill will have a positive impact on nearly every single congressional district in this country,” said Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), one of the bill’s co-sponsors. “Hundreds of businesses, recreation and environmental groups have come together to endorse our legislation.”
The LWCF, which also provides money to protect endangered species habitats, develop parks and outdoor recreation sites and protect sensitive forests, was permanently authorized last year, but its funding was never guaranteed.
The bill would also provide $1.9 billion annually for five years for national park maintenance. As of 2018, the maintenance backlog consisted of nearly $12 billion worth of deferred repairs. The repairs have been delayed because of budget constraints.
The Great American Outdoors Act previously passed the Senate in a 73-25 vote after Trump called on Congress to “send me a Bill that fully and permanently funds the LWCF and restores our National Parks” in March.
Trump announced his support for fully funding the LWCF and addressing the parks maintenance backlog in March. His support for the LWCF marks an election year reversal, as he had previously proposed slashing the fund’s budget by about 97 percent.
Trump credited two GOP senators facing competitive races, Cory Gardner (Colo.) and Steve Daines (Mont.), who have been among the bill’s major backers.
“When I sign it into law, it will be HISTORIC for our beautiful public lands,” he tweeted. “ALL thanks to @SenCoryGardner and @SteveDaines, two GREAT Conservative Leaders!”
Updated: 8:52 p.m.