Senate Passes Historic Public Lands Bill

By author of The Realblog with Stephanie Mallory

The Great American Outdoors Act has bi-partisan support and will direct $900 million toward conservation

With strong bi-partisan support, the Senate has passed a major public lands bill that will set aside hundreds of millions of dollars for conservation use if it passes in the House, which is expected. 

According to The Hill, the Great American Outdoors Act passed with a 73-25 vote and will permanently provide $900 million in oil and gas revenues for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which helps secure land for trails and parks. In addition, it would provide $6.5 billion toward the national parks' maintenance backlog. 

Reuters reports the LWCF was created in 1964, but most years Congress diverted funding for it to other uses. It received $495 million in funding last year.

The Senate's effort to pass the new bill was led by Republican Senators Cory Gardner of Colorado and Steve Daines of Montana, as well as Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia. 

The legislation now moves to the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives, where it is expected to pass. 

“Permanent LWCF funding will help improve access to public lands, including providing important access for hunting and fishing opportunities, and will ensure the program remains an important contributor to a strong and growing outdoor recreation economy that will benefit state and local economies throughout our nation,” Manchin said in a floor speech. 

President Donald Trump said he will sign the bill into law.

Billions of dollars in repairs to the National Park System have been delayed because of budget constraints. The backlog is estimated at almost $12 billion worth of deferred repairs as of 2018. 

Those who opposed the legislation, such as Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), say they are concerned about the cost of taking care of the national parks' maintenance backlog as well as spending the oil and gas revenues on the LWCF. 

The lower chamber will most likely take up the bill by July 4, 2020.

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