The Senate passed a major spending bill for the 2020 fiscal year, potentially averting a repeat of Trump’s historic government shutdown last holiday season if the President signs the massive spending proposal as expected. While the budget bolstered funding for the Department of the Interior, including providing limited funding for the controversial relocation of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), key Western Senators again failed to deliver on their promise to provide full and permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
“It was all hot-air and empty promises on funding for America’s public lands. This isn’t the first time these key Western Senators’ constituents have been the victim of a D.C. double-cross — claiming to be pro-public lands, intent on passing full and permanent funding for the LWCF, but ultimately shortchanging the critical public lands fund as they have done time and time again,” said Jayson O’Neill, Deputy Director of Western Values Project. “Senators, once again, also buried their heads in the sand by leaving the notorious sage-grouse rider on while the Trump administration runs roughshod over critical habitat and populations plummet.”
The Senate shorted the critical public lands program by millions at a time when our public lands face unprecedented maintenance needs and threats. The compromise budget also includes the notorious sage-grouse rider, preventing Fish and Wildlife Services from using funds to conduct necessary scientific analyses on the iconic birds’ population to determine if additional protections are necessary.
The critical and popular Land and Water Conservation (LWCF) was 45% short or $405 million under the allowed $900 million again this year. While the LWCF legislation languished, Senator Daines even went so far as to openly lobby his leadership on nominations, urging a confirmation vote on controversial Interior deputy secretary nominee Kate MacGregor despite the hold by his peer, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL).
The spending bill also includes the notorious and ominous sage-grouse rider that ensures no funding is available for studies regarding the birds’ protective status under the Endangered Species Act. Sec. Bernhardt has previously pushed to allow unfettered access to oil and gas interests keen on drilling and developing sage-grouse habitat as populations dwindle. Interior even attempted to ignore a federal judge’s ruling reinstating the 2015 sage-grouse habitat management protections by continuing to sell oil and gas leases in critical habitat.
Congress has only allocated full LWCF funding twice since its creation, meaning some $22 billion has been diverted from America’s public lands. There was a strong push for full and permanent funding for the LWCF after bipartisan legislation to make the program permanent sailed through both chambers. Many key Western Senators claimed to be supporting efforts to make funding permanent, including Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT), Cory Gardner (R-CO), and Martha McSally (R-AZ), but their “efforts” proved ultimately as empty as their political talking points. Instead of ensuring full and permanent LWCF funding, they were seemingly too busy voting to confirm anti-public land Interior appointees.