Tuesday, June 09, 2020

Republicans moving $900M bill to fix national parks and protect public lands – and two vulnerable GOP senators

Sens. Daines and Gardner (Photo by Tom Williams, CQ Roll Call)
"After decades of frustration over low levels of funding, the nation’s conservation community is on the brink of realizing a long-held goal — legislation that would assure that federal money is available for the preservation of public lands," Carl Hulse reports for The New York Times. "That is thanks to a desire among Republicans to protect what they consider two worthy assets of their own:" GOP Sens. Corey Gardner of Colorado and Steve Daines of Montana, who are in close re-election races.

The bill would fully and permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund at $900 million annually. Moving it "has required an about-face by the president and the grudging cooperation of some Republicans who have long opposed the measure on principle, believing it adds too much to the soaring deficit," Hulse reports. "The legislation cleared a procedural hurdle on Monday by a lopsided vote, 80 to 17, in an indication that it is headed for passage this month. Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who is eager to hold on to his position as majority leader after November’s elections, has gotten behind the bill . . . He is always careful to credit the two Western senators for the measure that he describes in glowing terms."

The arguments and timing for the bill are more than just political. "Its sponsors note that the pandemic has focused public attention on the need for public space for outdoor recreation, and that the park maintenance aspect alone will provide tens of thousands of jobs in communities that have been hit hard by the loss of tourism," Hulse reports.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who was working on a similar bill that is included in the legislation, said in a press release that it would be "the biggest boost to our national parks in 50 years" and cut in half their $12 billion deferred maintenance backlog. He said the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee and North Carolina, the most-visited park, "has $224 million of deferred maintenance and an annual budget of $20 million a year." He said that is "a massive disappointment to people who consider our national parks as our greatest treasures – who go to our parks and find a campground closed, a bathroom not working, a bridge that's closed, a road with potholes, a trail that’s worn out or a visitor center that could be dilapidated . . . things that are broken and don't work, and interfere with the ability of the American people to go outdoors."

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