The Senate is expected to debate into next week bipartisan legislation that would allow massive spending on the nation’s public lands and help two GOP senators boost their moderate credentials in tight reelection races.
Senators voted 79-18 on Wednesday to proceed to a legislative vehicle for the bill. A cloture vote could come as soon as 1 a.m. Friday. The vehicle is a tax bill that was passed in the House in April 2019.
Because the addition of the outdoor bill would constitute substantial changes to the tax measure, it would have to be voted on by the House again.
Sponsored by Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., and cosponsored by Sens. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., Steve Daines, R-Mont., and 57 other senators, the bill would fully and permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund and address the National Park Service's maintenance backlog.
“We have a chance to lead this week,” Gardner said on the Senate floor shortly before the vote.
He rejected criticism by some conservative groups and some GOP lawmakers that the bill is a “federal land grab” as well as concerns surrounding additional government spending following the huge amounts spent on coronavirus relief.
“This is money that is paid for … not by the taxpayers,” Gardner said. “This is paid for by offshore revenue. It’s an opportunity to protect our land without costing the taxpayer money.”
According to the Congressional Budget Office, the legislation would add $17.3 billion to the federal deficit over the next decade.
Gardner’s office could not be immediately reached for comment about the CBO report released Wednesday.
As The Huffington Post points out, Gardner and Daines have been in lockstep with Trump’s anti-conservation agenda:
Efforts to boost fossil fuel extraction, mining and other development have dominated the Trump administration’s public lands policy, often to the detriment of conservation.The administration has led the largest rollback of national monuments in U.S. history, carving out more than 2 million acres from a pair of protected national monuments in Utah, and last week opening a 5,000-square-mile marine sanctuary off the East Coast to commercial fishing. It has weakened key conservation laws that protect land, water and air, including the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. And it has repeatedly hosted anti-federal-land advocates and even tapped fierce critics of federal land management for powerful government posts.Supporting Trump and his anti-conservation agenda at seemingly every turn have been Gardner and Daines. Daines even signaled he’d back William Perry Pendley, the acting director of the Bureau of Land Management who has extreme anti-environmental views and spent his career lobbying for the sale of federal lands, if Trump were to officially nominate him for the post. Gardner has so far avoided taking a stand on Pendley, but touted his relationship with Trump and his own role in the administration’s controversial decision to move BLM headquarters to Colorado.“These things happen because President Trump and I work together for Colorado,” Gardner said at a Trump rally in February in Colorado Springs.Protecting public lands and maintaining them under federal control has proven to be a winning platform in Western states. Likewise, the LWCF is extremely popular ― 74% of Americans support fully funding the program, according to a 2018 poll by the National Wildlife Federation.Daines and Gardner appear to have realized that they need a conservation victory to point to going into the 2020 election. It remains to be seen if this will give them the boost they need to secure another term.Jessica Gode, deputy director of Conservation Colorado, said she is “thrilled” about the public lands bill and Gardner and Daines deserve credit. But she stressed that environmental leadership requires far more than supporting the LWCF, noting that Gardner has yet to back the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act, or CORE Act, which would protect approximately 400,000 acres of public land in the state. An analysis by her group last year found that Gardner has voted against the environment 85% of the time since he became a senator.“Colorado voters are really smart,” Gode said. “They are well-informed on the environment, and I think passing LWCF is just the start for voters.”In an interview with E&E News this week, a spokeswoman for Gardner’s campaign accused Democrats of being “more interested in playing politics than protecting public lands” and of attempting to “distract from the fact that Gardner accomplished something they failed to do for decades.”
Both John Hickenlooper (D. CO) and Steve Bullock (D. MT) emphasized their records on land conservation in both their White House runs and in their current U.S. Senate campaigns. Moscow Mitch is desperate to hold onto his majority and he’s trying to bail out frauds like Gardner and Daines. Let’s not let him get away with it. Click below to donate and get involved with Bullock’s campaign and the Colorado Democrat of your choice’s campaign: