WASHINGTON (Monitoring Desk): President Trump on Tuesday signed a major piece of conservation legislation into law as he and other Republicans seek to tout conservation accomplishments ahead of the elections in November.
Trump signed the Great American Outdoors Act, which would provide $900 million annually in oil and gas revenues for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which helps secure land for trails and parks.
The legislation would also provide billions of dollars over five years to address a maintenance backlog at national parks.
“We’re here today to celebrate the passage of truly landmark legislation that will preserve American’s majestic natural wonders, priceless historic treasures … grand national monuments and glorious national parks,” Trump said at the signing.
His support for the legislation is a reversal of his previous desire to slash the LWCF. In his budget wishlist for the next fiscal year, Trump proposed slashing the LWCF’s funding by nearly 97 percent. The administration’s budget proposals from past years had also suggested significant cuts to the LWCF.
Announcing his reversal to support the LWCF funding in March, Trump credited two senators, Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Steve Daines (R-Mont.), who are both up for reelection this fall and running in races considered toss-ups. Holding either or both of those seats could be key to Republicans’ hopes of keeping their Senate majority.
“When I sign it into law, it will be HISTORIC for our beautiful public lands. ALL thanks to @SenCoryGardner and @SteveDaines, two GREAT Conservative Leaders!” Trump tweeted in March.
Asked how the lawmakers convinced Trump to support the measures, Gardner told reporters in June that he and Daines had made the argument in a meeting earlier this year with Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
“We spoke for probably over an hour or so in this meeting with the president about what the two components meant, how they worked, how they were funded,” Gardner said.
“And then I showed him a picture of the Black Canyon Of The Gunnison National Park and I think Steve showed a picture as well and he looked at the park and said ‘it’s beautiful’ and we pointed up at the picture of Teddy Roosevelt on the wall and said this could be the biggest accomplishment going back to Teddy Roosevelt,” he added.
On Tuesday, Trump again praised the senators, as well as several other Republican lawmakers and officials who were at the event. He did not mention any Democrats, and a spokesperson for Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) said that he and other Democratic sponsors of the bipartisan legislation were not invited.
“Senator Manchin is glad President Trump is signing the Great American Outdoors Act this morning. Unless there was a miscommunication, he and other Democratic sponsors were not invited. It’s a shame since it has been a strong, bipartisan bill from the start,” Manchin spokesperson Sam Runyon told The Hill in an email.
The White House did not answer questions about whether any Democrats were invited to the bill signing. Trump on Tuesday reiterated that Daines and Gardner convinced him during the meeting, saying “within about a minute I was convinced and I wasn’t at all convinced before I walked in.”
The LWCF provides money to protect endangered species habitats, develop parks and outdoor recreation sites and protect sensitive forests. It was permanently authorized last year, but its funding was never guaranteed. The bill would also provide up to $1.9 billion annually for five years for national park maintenance. As of 2018, the maintenance backlog consisted of nearly $12 billion worth of deferred repairs.
Trump and his administration have touted the legislation as a big conservation achievement.
However, his administration has also tried to shrink or strip protections from a number of national monuments including the Bears Ears National Monument, the Grand Staircase National monument and the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument.
While the bill passed the House and Senate with bipartisan support, it also had its critics, with more than half of the House’s Republican delegation voted against it.
Some Republicans raised concerns about the cost of the legislation, which would come from oil and gas revenues that go to the Treasury Department.
“It’s expensive, shortsighted and it’s wrong,” Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) said in June, adding that the money “is currently going to the United States Treasury to pay for a number of other costs … and will only add to our already ballooning national debt.”
Rep. Rob Bishop (Utah), the top Republican on the House Natural Resources Committee, criticized the measure as putting money for new parks ahead of taking care of existing national parks since the LWCF funding would be prioritized.
“Now we are also saying in this bill the billion dollars of money to buy more land is now also a priority above and beyond what’s happening for the parks,” he said last month.