Senator Cory Gardner has raked in millions in campaign donations from high-profile special interest donors, including the Koch Industries PAC and oil and gas CEO Harold Hamm while campaigning during the Congressional summer recess. But the critical Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) languishes with an empty bank account because of Gardner’s inaction.
“Senator Gardner’s promises to protect Colorado’s public lands by fully funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund are nothing but empty gestures. He announced a corner-to-corner Colorado tour but hasn’t announced any public events. Instead of meeting with Coloradoans about pressing public lands and park issues, Gardner appears more concerned with cozying up to the special interests that have backed his career,” said Chris Saeger, Executive Director of the Western Values Project.
Gardner’s choice to take Koch-backed campaign donations speaks almost as loud as his inaction on funding the LWCF. The Koch-backed Property and Environment Research Center (PERC) has previously called for an end to national parks entirely, paired with a release of anti-public lands rhetoric against funding for the LWCF. Koch-backed interests have a pattern of supporting the sell-off of public lands to special interests for extractive resource development.
Gardner announced he would spend his August summer recess touring the state but has yet to announce or list any public events on his website. His team did not return comment when asked about potential public meetings. Garnder is widely supported by energy, mineral, and oil interests, including several big-name GOP donors. His campaign has raised nearly $6.8 million this cycle alone.
Gardner’s inaction on ensuring funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund has real impacts on Colorado’s public lands and national parks. In Colorado, the LWCF invested more than $278.6 million in protecting trails, parks, and public access. Recent estimates found that the federal government faces a $19.4 billion maintenance backlog on public lands across the Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Parks. Since the creation of the LWCF, Congress has diverted some $22 billion from the fund. Now, the Trump administration has proposed massive cuts to the fund, and Gardner has yet to stand up to Trump for Colorado’s public lands.
On March 12, 2019, the LWCF was signed into permanent law after passing both chambers of Congress by a wide bipartisan margin. However, the landmark legislation was passed without funding, leaving the future of the program in peril. Before leaving for summer vacation, the Senate passed a two-year continuing budget resolution, lifting the debt ceiling to avoid another reckless Trump government shutdown. The budget resolution did not include funding for the critical LWCF.