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Trump calls for full funding of conservation account

The program buys land from private sellers at fair-market value

Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., talks on his phone in the hallway outside of the Senate Republicans’ weekly lunch on Oct. 29, 2019.
Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., talks on his phone in the hallway outside of the Senate Republicans’ weekly lunch on Oct. 29, 2019. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

While his budget proposal would cut nearly all funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, President Donald Trump on Tuesday said he wants the program fully funded by Congress.

“I am calling on Congress to send me a Bill that fully and permanently funds the LWCF and restores our National Parks,” Trump tweeted Tuesday evening. “When I sign it into law, it will be HISTORIC for our beautiful public lands.”

His request comes hours before Interior Secretary David Bernhardt is expected to appear before Senate Appropriators on Wednesday morning to defend the White House’s request to cut the agency’s funding by 13 percent to $12.7 billion from the $14.7 billion in fiscal 2020.

The fiscal 2021 budget request, which the White House released on Feb. 10, proposed cutting funding for the LWCF by nearly 97 percent. The program, which collects money private sector oil and gas profits on federal lands, helps to pay for maintenance of public parks, wildlife refuges and other outdoor amenities.

Bipartisan support

The program is popular among lawmakers from both parties. Last year, after Congress let the program’s authority expire, lawmakers passed legislation (PL 116-9) to permanently reauthorize the program.

“We united a divided Congress last year when we got permanent authorization of the program signed into law,” Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., said in a statement following Trump’s tweet. “Now, we must provide full, mandatory funding for this important, bipartisan program.”

When Trump proposed cutting funding for the program last month, appropriators said they would reject his proposal and continue to fund the program.

In his Tuesday tweet, Trump praised Daines and Cory Gardner of Colorado for being “great conservation leaders.”

Both lawmakers are running for reelection and Gardner faces a difficult race against former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Hickenlooper sought to cast doubt on his opponent’s public lands record, saying in a tweet that Gardner “voted to put a coal lobbyist” in charge of the EPA, “refused to support” legislation to protect 400,000 acres of Colorado lands and voted in the past to cut LWCF funding.
“Only President Trump would praise a record like this,” Hickenlooper tweeted.

Daines and Gardner say they want funding for the LWCF to be moved outside the appropriations process.

“The LWCF supports projects in Colorado and all across our country at no cost to the taxpayer, and fighting every year to figure out how much money the program will receive doesn’t provide the long-term planning certainty that our outdoor and conservation community deserves,” Gardner said.

Budget request

Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., the ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Interior-Environment Subcommittee, said he welcomed Trump’s “apparent newfound” support for the program but pointed out the contradiction in the White House budget request.

“I hope that someone will show him his own budget request, which once again cuts LWCF by a shocking 97 percent,” Udall said in a news release.

Last year, the White House had to amend its own budget request after Trump told a crowd at a rally in Michigan that he would fully fund the Great Lakes Restoration Project, just days after he had requested eliminating spending on that and other geographical programs.

“If the president truly supports our bipartisan action to fully fund the LWCF, he should quickly amend his own budget proposal, and I look forward to his support of our bipartisan bill for permanent, mandatory LWCF funding that has the strong support of Senate Democrats,” Udall said. “But if today’s announcement is only a political ploy, voters across the West will see through any such charade and hold him accountable.”

Ellyn Ferguson contributed to this report.

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