When the U.S. Senate returns from its Memorial Day recess in June it will take up a bipartisan bill to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund and direct $1 billion a year to address the backlog of maintenance in the nation’s national parks.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, made the announcement about the Great American Outdoors Act on Thursday afternoon.
President Donald Trump in March said he would sign a legislation providing $900 million annually to the Land and Water Conservation Fund at the behest of Colorado’s Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner. Gardner is considered one of the most vulnerable GOP members of Congress up for reelection in November.
Gardner and Colorado’s Democratic senator, Michael Bennet, have long pushed to ensure the fund gets all of the money it’s eligible to receive.
“I look forward to the Senate passing this legislation quickly and I call on the House of Representatives to be prepared to take it up in short order,” Gardner said in a written statement on Thursday afternoon. “Now is the time for bold, bipartisan action to create immediate job opportunities, and the President has already called for this legislation to be sent to his desk for his signature.”
The LWCF was created in 1965 but has rarely been allocated all of the money it’s due from royalties collected on offshore oil and gas drilling. About $40 billion has flowed into the fund since it was established, but only $18.4 billion of the $40 billion has been appropriated by Congress.
Of the money that the fund has received, $11.2 billion has gone toward federal land acquisition and $4.7 billion has been directed to state grants and national park grants.
The news about the Great American Outdoors Act bodes well for the U.S. Forest Service’s request to purchase 488 acres around Sweetwater Lake in Garfield County for conservation. The property, in the shadow of the Flat Tops Wilderness, is No. 9 on a list of 36 pieces of critical forest-adjacent land prioritized for acquisition.
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The LWCF deal came together after Gardner on Wednesday threatened to hold the up the Memorial Day recess unless the Senate took action on that bill and also made changes to the Paycheck Protection Program, the loan initiative created by Congress to help businesses weather the coronavirus crisis.
“It’s our job to help get the country back to work and make it through #COVID19. Now is not the time for the Senate to go home,” Gardner tweeted on Wednesday.
Gardner, ultimately, did not hold up the recess, drawing criticism from Democrats for not following through. Former Gov. John Hickenlooper, who is running to replace Gardner in November, accused Gardner of giving up at a time when “Coloradans need help now.”
But the news about the Great American Outdoors Act represents a win for his reelection effort.
Also, according to multiple news outlets, the Senate was working Thursday evening to extend to 16 weeks from eight weeks the amount of time businesses hoping to have their PPP loans forgiven have to spend the money.
That effort, however, was unsuccessful and will likely be taken up again in June.