As Congress returns from summer recess, Western senators like Sens. McSally (R-AZ), Gardner (R-CO), and Daines (R-MT) should have a fresh appreciation for the importance of public lands and national parks. Yet each of these senators made it all summer without accomplishing much more than self-congratulatory talking points.
Between rampant investigations into Interior Department political appointees, an unconfirmed acting Bureau of Land Management (BLM) head who wants to sell off public lands, and the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) languishing without full and permanent funding, these Senators and the rest of Congress have their work cut out for them.
“Public lands are a critical piece of the West’s outdoor heritage. Sens. McSally, Daines, and Gardner certainly are aware of that. While they spent the summer presumably using and enjoying public lands that have been funded by the LWCF, it’s time to fully fund this critical program,” said Jayson O’Neill, Deputy Director of the Western Values Project. “But that isn’t the only thing Congress needs to buckle down and address. Between the array of investigations, lack of accountability within Interior and ensuring the BLM is headed up by someone who will protect, not sell off, America’s public lands, it’s well past the hour for Congress to get back to D.C. and do their job of protecting our outdoor heritage.”
Among Congress’ top duties is providing the checks and balances to the other branches of the federal government. Part of protecting America’s outdoor heritage and public lands will mean Congressional action against the Trump administration’s historic erosion of public lands protections. A first step? Working to restore the now-gutted Endangered Species Act and ending the land giveaway to extractive corporations and special interests.
Next, Congress, and Sens. Daines, McSally, and Gardner must fully and permanently fund the LWCF. For over five decades, the LWCF has been one of the most important and popular programs for protecting and conserving public lands and national monuments. The LWCF doesn’t cost taxpayers a dime but the Trump administration’s proposed budget nearly zeroed out the fund. A recent poll found that the overwhelming majority of Western voters (83%) want Congress to reauthorize and fund the LWCF.
Critically, Congress must also hold William Pendley, the new Acting Director of the BLM, accountable, not only for his previous extremist views to sell off America’s public lands but also for his clear conflicts of interest concerning the Grand Staircase National Monument in Utah among others.
The Interior Department, like much of the Trump cabinet, is facing huge number of vacancies in key leadership positions. Congress must address these critical vacancies, and encourage the administration to nominate qualified appointees.
Lastly, but not least importantly, Congress must hold current Interior political appointees accountable and ensure the investigation into Interior Department Secretary David Bernhardt’s conflicts of interest proceeds unobstructed.