In Show of Bipartisanship, House Approves a Sweeping Land Conservation Bill

Want climate news in your inbox? Sign up here for Climate Fwd:, our email newsletter.

WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives on Tuesday passed its first significant public lands conservation bill in years, designating more than one million acres of wilderness for environmental protection and permanently reauthorizing a federal program to pay for conservation measures.

The House passage of the bill, on a vote of 363-62, sends the measure, which was passed by the Senate this month, to the desk of President Trump. The vote Tuesday offered a rare moment of bipartisanship in a divided chamber and a rare victory for environmentalists at a time when the Trump administration is working aggressively to strip away protections on public lands and open them to mining and drilling.

Nonetheless, Mr. Trump was expected to sign the bill into law. But the one million acres of wilderness that would be protected by the bill stand in contrast to the administration’s plans to open up for drilling nine million acres of protected habitat for the sage grouse, two million acres of protected land in Utah, parts of the vast Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska and most United States coastal waters.

Lawmakers and environmentalists celebrated passage of the bill as a victory for bipartisanship and conservation.

“This bill represents Congress at its best and truly gives the American people something to be excited about,” said Representative Raúl M. Grijalva, the Arizona Democrat who is chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee. “It’s a massive win for the present and future of American conservation.”

Mr. Grijalva is one of several Western lawmakers from both parties who have worked for four years on the bill.

The bill is packed with parochial provisions designed to help the home states and districts of its authors. Among those is a provision for a land transfer in La Paz County, Ariz., to allow for the development of a solar farm, and a land exchange of 360 acres in Custer County, S.D., to allow the county to expand its airport.

Among the most consequential provisions is the permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a federal program established in the 1960s that uses fees and royalties paid by oil and gas companies drilling in federal waters to pay for onshore conservation programs.

Although the program has long enjoyed bipartisan support, Congress typically renews it for only a few years at a time, and it expired on Sept. 30 and has not been renewed. The new public lands package would authorize the program permanently, ending its long cycle of nearing or passing expiration and awaiting congressional renewal.

In part because the bill would reauthorize that program — under which fossil-fuel companies, rather than taxpayers, cover a major portion of the cost of protecting public lands — the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the measure would increase government revenues by $9 million over a decade.

“Today’s passage of a bipartisan public lands package, including permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund and numerous conservation measures, represents a historic victory for our wildlife heritage and outdoor enthusiasts of every stripe,” said Collin O’Mara, president and chief executive of the National Wildlife Federation.

The bill would designate 1.3 million acres in Utah, New Mexico, Oregon and California as wilderness, the most stringent level of federal land protection. It prohibits any development and the use of most motorized vehicles. And the bill creates less-stringent but permanent protections for land in Montana and Washington State.

It would also classify approximately 225 miles of river in Massachusetts and Connecticut and 280 miles of river in Oregon as wild, scenic or recreational.

It would add approximately 40,000 acres of federal land to the Death Valley and Joshua Tree National Parks and Mojave National Preserve.

It includes three new national monuments to be administered by the National Park Service: the home of the civil rights activists Medgar and Myrlie Evers in Jackson, Miss.; the Mill Springs Civil War battlefield in Nancy, Ky.; and Camp Nelson, a Civil War recruitment and training center for African-American soldiers in Nicholasville, Ky.

The bill also includes some wildlife conservation provisions: It reauthorizes government funding for conservation programs to protect exotic animals like rhinoceroses and tigers, and establishes cash-prize competitions for technological innovations in the prevention of illegal poaching and trafficking and protection of endangered wildlife.

For more news on climate and the environment, follow @NYTClimate on Twitter.

Coral Davenport covers energy and environmental policy, with a focus on climate change, from the Washington bureau. She joined The Times in 2013 and previously worked at Congressional Quarterly, Politico and National Journal. @CoralMDavenport Facebook

Source: Read Full Article