Senators: Historic Park Maintenance, LWCF Funding Closer To Passage
At a press conference on Capitol Hill, senators from both parties celebrated the imminent passage of what they consider historic national park funding legislation following endorsement of the bill by President Donald Trump. The Restore Our Parks Act diverts a portion of the rents and fees paid by energy development on non-park public lands to address $12 billion in backlogged maintenance across the National Parks Service.
“This is a historic day for conservation, Montana and this nation. I am proud to stand here today and announce that after my meeting with President Trump, Senator [Cory] Gardner and Leader [Mitch] McConnell, we have the support we need to provide full and mandatory funding for LWCF [Land and Water Conservation Fund] and address the maintenance backlog at our national parks,” said Montana Sen. Steve Daines.
The press conference came the day after Daines and Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner (R) succeeded in obtaining Trump’s support for the bill. The president tweeted his support for the legislation after meeting with the senators and commended Daines and Gardner for their hard work.
A recent report from the Interior Department showed the amount of revenue from energy development on public lands has more than doubled from 2016, to $7.5 billion.
Gardner explained that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was hesitant to schedule a vote on the proposed legislation without the White House’s support. However, a brief meeting with the senators was all it took to persuade the president that this was a necessary investment in America’s public lands.
“[An] incredible moment for conservation,” said Gardner. He said this “is right for conservation, full permanent funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund and passage of the Restore Our Parks Act.”
Gardner said excitement in his state echoed enthusiasm to move these initiatives forward from across the country. McConnell called it “the most significant conservation legislation enacted by Congress in at least half a century.”
“As we stand here today the summit is in view and we are going to get to the top of this mountain,” Daines added.
The Restore Our Parks Act is expected to provide $1.3 billion annually for the next five years towards deferred parks maintenance. As Western Wire’s national park series last years showed, across the U.S., parks have been struggling to fund needed renovations to park infrastructure, roads, bridges, and trails, and to invest in new visitor facilities. All of these projects will benefit from the new legislation.
Support for the bill was overwhelming and bipartisan. In addition to the 51 sponsors in the Senate, the legislation has attracted 329 cosponsors in the House. Explaining their support for the legislation, lawmakers described having an obligation to future generations.
“If we pass the Restore Our Parks Act and fund [the Land and Water Conservation Fund] today, we’ll be ensuring that in 100 years – long after our names have been forgotten – American families will be able to access our nation’s greatest treasures,” said Maine Sen. Angus King (D), who added that the bill would help “the people of America and generations yet unborn.”
With success on the horizon, the senators are eager to schedule a final vote—and made it clear that they would not tolerate political gamesmanship.
“We’re at a crossroads, the chance to do this will not happen again in my lifetime,” said West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin (D). “Politics be damned, let’s just get it done.”
In an era of partisan politics, the senators agreed that the legislation was a welcome moment of bipartisanship. The political squabbles will doubtless recommence soon, but for the time being, they could stand together to support preserving America’s beautiful wild places.
“Once again, it is taking public lands to bring a divided government together,” said Daines. “When you hang up your spurs and leave this place, you think about what you leave behind.”
The date for a vote in the Senate has not yet been scheduled, but is expected after completion of an energy bill, according to Sen. Lisa Murkowski. It will then be up to the House or Representatives to hold a final floor vote before the bill can be sent to the president’s desk for his signature.