President Donald Trump on Tuesday signed the Great American Outdoors Act into law, providing full funding to the Land and Water Conservation Fund — a program his administration previously wanted to pare back.
The law was championed by Colorado’s U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner and Montana’s U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, both of whom are Republicans facing difficult reelection battles in November.
Gardner thanked Trump for “making it happen.” Trump thanked Gardner for championing the legislation during the White House ceremony.
“Congratulations,” Trump said to Gardner and Daines. “Great job.”
Despite the president’s previous stance toward the Land and Water Conservation Fund — his recent budget proposal called for its funding to be dramatically reduced — he compared himself on Tuesday to President Theodore Roosevelt, who founded the U.S. Forest Service and created several national parks.
Also during Tuesday’s ceremony Trump referred to Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, which he drastically shrunk in December 2017. The monument was created by former President Barack Obama.
In addition to funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund at $900 million annually, the money it was originally allocated from royalties collected on offshore oil and gas drilling, the bill also begins to tackle the National Park Service’s maintenance backlog with a $9.5 billion infusion over five years.
Democrats have lauded the measure’s passage, though criticized the bill as an election-year gift to Gardner.
Gardner has been running campaign ads touting his work on the legislation.
Environmental groups have also celebrated the legislation, though tepidly.
“This is a win for the people that spoke up, reached out, and whose overwhelming outcry to save our parks and fund our public lands forced politically vulnerable officials into action,” Jayson O’Neill, director of the Western Values Project, said in a written statement.
O’Neill’s group is often highly critical of Republicans and the Trump administration on environmental issues. He said that the bill becoming law “can’t wash away the dirty reality of a public lands record that is unequivocally the worst in history.”
The Sierra Club on Tuesday endorsed Gardner’s 2020 opponent, Democrat John Hickenlooper, in a move that appeared to be aimed to coincide with the bill signing. Colorado Democrats, meanwhile, blasted Gardner’s broader environmental record as the legislation became law.
Gardner calls the Great American Outdoors Act one of the greatest public lands achievements in decades.
“Our nation’s leaders came together during these trying times in a bipartisan fashion to provide jobs for the American people, economic stimulus to communities in need, and protections that will ensure we can enjoy the great American outdoors the way they were meant to be enjoyed,” Gardner said in a statement.
Fully funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund has been a goal of some federal lawmakers — on both sides of the aisle — for years. The logjam broke in March when Trump agreed to back the proposal at the urging of Gardner and Daines.
Gardner is a Trump ally and the two are supporting each other’s reelection bids.
The Great American Outdoors Act moved swiftly through Congress in June and July with broad bipartisan support. However the three other Republican members of Colorado’s congressional delegation — U.S. Reps. Ken Buck, Doug Lamborn and Scott Tipton — voted against the bill.
Also at Tuesday’s bill signing were Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter. Despite work by Democrats on the legislation it didn’t appear any of the party’s lawmakers were part of the signing.
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