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Thanks all around
It’s all over but the shoutin’.
But it’s the shouting that has become the curious sideshow to a historic legislative achievement — full and permanent funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
After the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Great American Outdoors Act on Wednesday, following earlier Senate passage, Colorado’s Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner wasted little time in calling the legislation he co-sponsored “the biggest environmental accomplishment in the last 50 years.”
Conservationists may not disagree with that sentiment, but Gardner’s legislative win puts them in an awkward position. Gardner is considered by some environmental groups to be a Johnny Come Lately in supporting full funding of the LWCF.
In contrast, Colorado’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet has officially supported full funding legislation since he came to the Senate in 2010. But it was Gardner, facing re-election this year, who persuaded the president to back the bill.
Most people who appreciate what full and permanent LWCF funding means to Colorado don’t want to politicize the moment. There will be plenty of time to litigate Gardner’s environmental record between now and November. As our colleague on the editorial page, Jim Spehar, aptly summarized in a recent column, “Criticize Gardner, if you must, for what he hasn’t done. But let’s say ‘thank you’ to both him and to Sen. Bennet for what looks to be successful work on LWCF.”
Gardner has been quick to point to wide bipartisan support for the Great American Outdoors Act.
“This bill’s passage stood on so many people’s shoulders, both Republican and Democrat, and the signing ceremony will reflect that. I hope it does, anyway,” he said.
In that spirit, we want to recognize the Colorado lawmakers who have taken supportive actions for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (including permanent reauthorization or full funding): Gov. Jared Polis, former Gov. John Hickenlooper, Sen. Bennet, Sen. Gardner, Rep. Diana DeGette, Rep. Doug Lamborn, Rep. Ed Perlmutter, Rep. Jason Crow and Rep. Joe Neguse. Rep. Scott Tipton supported permanent authorization of the program but voted no this week out of concern about adding permanent mandatory funding to the budget.
Once President Trump signs it, the GAOA will permanently and fully fund the LWCF at its congressional authorized amount of $900 million a year. It will also address an estimated $20 billion maintenance backlog in national parks and on other federal land, including an estimated $21 million backlog at Colorado National Monument.
So, yes, it’s a big deal, especially for our state, which brands itself as an outdoors mecca. Colorado has received approximately $271.8 million in LWCF funding over the past 50 years.
The program is paid for by revenues from offshore oil and gas development and helps with everything from acquisition of private lands within national parks and forests to paying for parks and other outdoor amenities at state and local levels.
Colorado’s ability to develop a robust outdoor recreation economy hinges on good land and water conservation. The biggest source of funding to protect and improve access to special landscapes is the Land and Water Conservation Fund. For decades, funding for maintenance of these areas has been lacking, and having the resources to address the massive backlog of needs, as well as continuing to protect our special places, is a double win.