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House to vote on public lands bill passed by Senate

Land and Water Conservation Fund and National Park maintenance would benefit. So might two GOP senators

Federal public lands, including Yellowstone National Park, would get money to catch up on maintenance under the bill.
Federal public lands, including Yellowstone National Park, would get money to catch up on maintenance under the bill. (NurPhoto/Getty Images)

The House is expected to pass bipartisan public lands legislation Wednesday, delivering a victory for at-risk Republican senators up for election and sending hundreds of millions of dollars to a federal conservation fund.

President Donald Trump was swayed to support the legislation, which he plans to sign into law, after Sens. Steve Daines, R-Mont., and Cory Gardner, R-Colo., showed him pictures of national parks in their home states.

The Senate passed the bill on June 17, 73-20, with opposition from oil-state and Gulf Coast Republicans, including Sens. Bill Cassidy, R-La., and Richard Shelby, R-Ala., and another critic of federal land powers in their state, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah.

Both Daines and Gardner, facing challenges respectively from Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock and former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, are running on the legislation in their campaigns.

Gardner’s campaign website touts him as “a champion for Colorado’s public lands throughout his time in the Senate,” adding that “he led the fight to permanently reauthorize” the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Touting ‘outcomes’

On Tuesday afternoon, Daines spokeswoman Katie Schoettler sent an unsolicited email attributing the almost-signed-into-law legislation to her boss, at least in part.

“There’s a difference between talking about something and getting it done,” she wrote. “Facts are facts. Steve Daines gets outcomes.”

The bill would permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a federal pool of money that gets its revenue largely from offshore oil and gas drilling fees income. It would also authorize $9.5 billion for the Interior Department to clear some of its backlog of maintenance, including at National Park Service sites, a bipartisan cause.

A rare piece of environmental legislation with widespread bipartisan backing, the bill would direct money to five federal agencies: the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Indian Education, the Forest Service, the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, the top GOP member of the House Natural Resources Committee, tried to derail the legislation Friday, citing provisions that allow the federal government to acquire land.

He also pushed to waylay the bill it by arguing revenue to the LWCF has dried up during the coronavirus pandemic. A recent Congressional Research Service report found royalties from onshore oil and gas extraction dropped in May, versus the same period of 2019.

Members shepherding the bill swatted away changes from oil-state Republicans to increase the share of offshore drilling money that would go to coastal states and to block federal agencies from purchasing land with LWCF money without approval from the state in question.

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