The Senate just passed the largest public lands bill in a decade on Tuesday, a rare bipartisan package that will impose more stringent federal protections for millions of acres and hundreds of miles of wild rivers across the country.
Perhaps the most significant change the legislation would make is permanently authorizing a popular federal program, called the Land and Water Conservation Fund, that funnels offshore drilling revenue to conserve a spread of sites that includes everything from major national parks and wildlife preserves to local baseball diamonds and basketball courts.
"We have finally permanently reauthorized LWCF so our land management agencies can operate fully and without the fear of losing access to the funding they rely on," Sen. Joe Manchin III (W.Va.), the top Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said after the vote.
As Juliet Eilperin and I report, the reauthorization was part of a sweeping bill that classified 1.3 million acres as wilderness, giving them the nation’s most stringent protections that prohibit even roads and motorized vehicles. The bill also permanently withdraws more than 370,000 acres of land from mining around two national parks, including Yellowstone.
In an era where horse-trading has become elusive on Capitol Hill, this package is crammed full of provisions in an effort to garner nearly every senator's vote. The 662-page measure passed the Senate in a 92-8 vote. The lower chamber is poised to take it up after the mid-February recess, and White House officials have indicated privately that the president will sign it.
Authorization for the LWCF lapsed months ago due to the partial government shutdown and other disputes. Liberals like the fact that the money allows agencies to set aside land for wildlife habitat. Conservatives like the fact that taxpayers don’t have to foot the bill for it.
But while Congress is now set to reauthorize the fund in perpetuity, it will not make its spending mandatory.
Mandatory spending was something conservationists were seeking given the history of the program. Congressional funding for LWCF has “fluctuated widely” since its inception in 1965, according to a 2018 Congressional Research Service report. Less than half of the $40 billion that has piled up in the fund during its five decades of existence has been spent by Congress on conservation efforts.
“We wish we would have gotten it, but it’s still a big win,” said Jonathan Asher, a government relations manager at the Wilderness Society who worked at the Environmental Protection Agency during the Obama administration. “There are plenty of members of Congress that want mandatory funding, but it’s a longer, heavier lift.”
It's a lift, though, that some in the Senate are already preparing to make again — especially after control of the House changed hands from Democrats to Republicans.
Even though the package that passed the Senate is the largest public lands bill in years, one of its co-authors, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), thinks Congress can soon get another bite at the apple with regard to not only giving LWCF mandatory funding, but also creating another long-awaited fund for maintaining existing roads, bridges and other infrastructure in national parks.
"There's bite two is coming," Cantwell said before the vote. "Some people tried to marry all of that together, and the complexity of how to do that with last year's House just wasn't happening."
There was clearly some apetite for mandatory funding in the Senate last year. A bill from Cantwell giving LWCF mandatory funding passed out of Energy and Natural Resources in a 16-7 vote in October, with Murkowski and some other Republicans voting against it over concerns about automatically funding the program — even though she supported permanent reauthorization.
"That may be something you see coming from the House," Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who co-wrote the major public lands bill with Cantwell, said after the vote on Tuesday. "It was clear that there was a divide here in the Senate."
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— The “Green New Deal” will get a vote in the Senate: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters he will bring the nonbinding resolution to the floor for a vote. “I’ve noted with great interest the Green New Deal,” he said, per The Post's Felicia Sonmez. “We’re going to be voting on that in the Senate. Give everybody an opportunity to go on record. And see how they feel about the Green New Deal.”
What's actually going on: The measure is virtually guaranteed to fail in the GOP-controlled chamber. But McConnell wanted to hold a vote “as a way to rattle” Senate Democrats, according to the The Post’s Robert Costa.
McConnell is considering taking up the green new deal for a vote in the Senate as a way to rattle Sen Dems, per a McConnell aide here at the Cap— Robert Costa (@costareports) February 12, 2019
Will that work? The rollout of the resolution is not going as well as its backers probably hoped it would after the office of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) had to retract an erroneous fact sheet about it. But the scant polling done on the proposal indicates its goals are quite popular, suggesting a vote for it may not be too heavy of a weight around the necks of Democrats.
— “I don’t need to co-sponsor every bill”: Five Senate Democrats running for president have already signed onto the Green New Deal resolution. But Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who is also considering throwing his hat into the ring, has not.
Brown explained himself at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast on Tuesday. “Climate change is one of the most important moral issues of our times,” he said. “We should be much more aggressive." He added: "I want to get something done for people now... I don’t need to co-sponsor every bill that others think they need to co-sponsor to show my progressive politics."
Howard Schultz is even less of a fan: The former Starbucks chief executive, who is mulling a run for president, dismissed the Green New Deal as “not realistic” during a CNN town hall. “When I read that by 2030 they’re suggesting that every building in America becomes clean energy, conforms to clean energy. Just to put that in perspective because it’s not realistic,” Schultz said. “That would mean that between 2-and-3,000 buildings a day would have to be reconstructed to conform to what they’re saying. Let’s be sensible about what we're suggesting, let’s not just throw things against a wall because it’s a good slogan or we get a press release."
TRUMP: "We're thinking about doing on the Fourth of July, or thereabouts, a parade — a Salute to America parade. It’ll be a, really a gathering as opposed to a parade … [and] we just saved on fireworks. We get free fireworks because it’s already being done. So that’s very good." pic.twitter.com/Rz0zHokq93— JM Rieger (@RiegerReport) February 12, 2019
— Trump praises David Bernhardt: During a televised Cabinet meeting, the president said his acting interior secretary, who he said he plans to nominate for the permanent gig, “has done a fantastic job, and I think he will continue.”
The president also teased a “Salute to America” parade, which he said Bernhardt will oversee, that may be held on or around the Fourth of July. “Perhaps at the Lincoln Memorial … And the fireworks is there anyway, so we just saved on fireworks.”
— Butterfly center wants border activity stopped: The National Butterfly Center in southern Texas filed a motion this week, calling on a federal judge to halt border wall activity on its property, the Associated Press reports. “We will not stand idly by as the bulldozers roll in,” center director Marianna Trevino Wright said in a statement. “Heavy construction equipment started to appear last week in the Rio Grande Valley, the southernmost region of Texas,” per the AP.
— Trump urges officials to keep 49-year-old coal plant open: "Trump set up a clash with an independent agency Monday evening with his call for the Tennessee Valley Authority to keep open an aging coal plant that buys much of its coal from a company chaired by Robert E. Murray, one of the president’s major supporters,” The Post's Steven Mufson reports.
As is typical for Trump, that call came in the form of a tweet:
Coal is an important part of our electricity generation mix and @TVAnews should give serious consideration to all factors before voting to close viable power plants, like Paradise #3 in Kentucky!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 11, 2019
The problem: That independent agency, the Tennessee Valley Authority, has already said the Paradise coal plant in western Kentucky is no longer viable. The unit “does not provide the level of flexibility needed to balance hourly, daily and seasonal changes in energy consumption,” the agency said.
Trump loves coal, but why is he tweeting about this plant in particular? That may be because Murray, one of its major coal suppliers, was a leading donor to Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and still is today a frequent customer at Trump’s hotel in downtown Washington, being listed among "VIP Arrivals" internally.
— “Now is the time to start the beginning of the end of natural gas”: Los Angeles is scrapping a plan to invest billions of dollars in the rebuilding of three natural gas power plants there, the Los Angeles Times reports, as the city moves away from fossil fuels and toward renewable sources for power generation. “It’s the right thing to do for our health. It’s the right thing to do for our Earth. It’s the right thing to do for our economy,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti (D) said. The decision follows debate in the city between those who warned gas plants were needed to keep the power on and environmental groups that argued investing in the plants was counter to a California goal of reaching 100 percent clean electricity sources by 2045.
"Let's be real”: At the same time, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) called for dialing back another effort to drive down emissions — the proposed construction of high-speed rail from Los Angeles to San Francisco. “The current project, as planned, would cost too much and respectfully take too long,” he said during his first State of the State address. He said he instead wants to focus on rail projects in California's Central Valley, whose residents “endure the worst air pollution in America and have some of the longest commutes in this state.”
— Big spending from Big Steel: Steel producers have increased lobbying spending, reaching the highest point in at least two decades, the Wall Street Journal reports. Steel companies, including some foreign firms, spent $12.2 million last year, a 20 percent jump from 2017, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics. Steel producers urged the Trump administration to impose tariffs, but the WSJ notes the “effectiveness of the steel lobby has led to counter efforts by manufacturers who rely on steel, who say tariffs are raising their costs and forcing them to pass them on to consumers.”
— What will your city feel like in 2080 with continued warming? A new study published in the journal Nature Communications sought to better explain how climate change will transform cities, putting it in the context of other regions' climates. In 60 years, New York City, for example, could feel like Arkansas’s current climate if warming trends continue at the current rate. Raleigh, N.C. could feel like Tallahassee. And Chicago could feel more like Kansas City.
“But if the world cuts back on its carbon dioxide emissions, peaking around 2040, then New York’s climate can stay closer to home, feeling more like central Maryland, while Chicago’s climate could be somewhat like Dayton, Ohio’s,” the Associated Press reports.
- The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee holds a hearing on the threat of invasive species.
- The House Natural Resources subcommittee on national parks, forests and public lands holds a hearing on climate change and public lands.
- The U.S. Nuclear Industry Council, ClearPath and the Energy Department’s Office of nuclear Energy host an event on “The Value Proposition for Advanced Nuclear.”
— A trophy hunter from Texas paid $110,000 to kill a rare mountain goat in Pakistan: But there’s a “benign rationale” behind letting hunter Bryan Kinsel Harlan and others “pay enormous sums to kill three long-horned markhors in northern Pakistan in the past month,” The Post’s Pamela Constable reports. Pakistani officials and conservation groups say the practice of banning all local hunting but allowing some foreign hunters to shoot 12 male goats per season helped save the species from potential extinction. “Most of the funds are supposed to be distributed to the impoverished, isolated residents in the goats’ mountainous habitat areas, which get 80 percent of the fee as well as income as hunting guides and hosts — all extra incentive not to poach the markhors,” Constable reports, noting government wildlife agencies get the other 20 percent.