Sens. Steve Daines and Jon Tester joined a bipartisan group of lawmakers on Capitol Hill Thursday, where they called on Congress to permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
If it sounds like deja vu, it should. The same group of senators stood on the same plot of ground in June and made a nearly parallel argument, saying LWCF costs taxpayers nothing and goes far in boosting local economies.
“It’s $7 billion, just in Montana,” Tester said. “That turns into real money after a while. It’s money that returns millions of dollars to the coffers of the U.S. Treasury.”
The fund was established in 1964 to safeguard public lands, water resources and cultural heritage and is widely praised as one of the nation’s preeminent conservation tools. But the fund expired in September and remains locked in a lame duck session of Congress.
“We’re trying to make the lame duck a little less lame and make sure we get some production on LWCF and move it forward,” said Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo. “It’s one of the most important conservation programs this country has. The crown jewel at no cost to the taxpayers.”
Daines, a member of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources, said the committee passed a bill in October reauthorizing and fully funding LWCF. That was due to bipartisan support, he said, though the Senate has yet to vote on the measure.
“Thanks to senators on both sides of the aisle – Republicans and Democrats – we moved that important legislation through,” Daines said. “That is the permanent reauthorization of LWCF – mandatory and full funding. That’s the bill that came out of the Senate. It costs the taxpayers zero and it shouldn’t be a tough debate, but that’s the debate we’re in right now.”
While Daines and other Republican members of the coalition have stated their support for the legislation, Tester said Sen. Richard Burr, R-South Carolina and an ardent supporter of LWCF, was “the only one to stand up to his party and say enough.”
“The president’s budget cut this funding by 99 percent,” Tester said. “We put $425 million into it, but the truth is, we need $900 million. That’s what it was initially funded at.”
The Missoula City Council this week also passed a resolution urging Congress to restore and fully fund the beleaguered program, which has funded tens of thousands of conservation efforts from coast to coast.
According to the city’s resolution, Montana alone has received more than 775 grants under the program, including 18 to the city of Missoula. Statewide, the program supports state and local assets that contribute $7.1 billion to the economy and support 71,000 jobs.
“We’re here in the lame duck, and we need to get it permanently reauthorized and make the down payment for the future of our public lands,” said Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Washington. “Nothing could be more important on our agenda for this lame duck session. It’s time Congress not go into 2019 with a big question mark around such an important asset for growing our economy.”