BILLINGS- Two pieces of key legislation in a massive lands package will not be addressed in Congress before 2018 is up.
The bipartisan Land and Water Conservation Fund will not be reauthorized for funding this year and neither will the Yellowstone Gateway Protection Act, two bills near and dear to Montanans.
According to Montana Republican Sen. Steve Daines’ office, Congress refused to bring the lands issue to the Senate floor Wednesday night.
Daines is a leader on the lands package along with other senators from western states .
Also failing to advance was Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester’s Yellowstone Gateway bill, which blocks mining on federal land near Yellowstone National Park.
In a release, Tester’s staff said he made an eleventh-hour attempt to include the Yellowstone Gateway Protection Act at an end of year public lands legislative package, but the bill was blocked by Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah.
“The Yellowstone Gateway Protection Act has been years in the making and now Senate passage is in sight,” Tester said. “I will hold Congress accountable to our agreement and make sure that they deliver on their promise to permanently protect the doorstep of Yellowstone Park from mining that will hurt our economy and harm our clean water.”
The Land and Water Conservation Fund was developed in 1964 and funded by offshore oil and gas royalties. However, in September 2018, the fund expired and has not been reauthorized for funding by Congress since.
Now each day the program is losing over $2 million dollars a day that go to recreation projects in Montana.
Business for Montana’s Outdoor Executive Director, Marne Hayes, issued a statement after Congress failed to include reauthorization and full funding of the bipartisan Land and Water Conservation Fund as part of its year-end legislative package.
“Business for Montana’s Outdoors represents over 200 members who are critical in fueling Montana’s $7.1 billion outdoor recreation economy, and the 71,000 related jobs. We could not be more disappointed that a lack of leadership and toxic partisanship has been allowed to hijack our nation’s most successful conservation tool, the Land and Water Conservation Fund,” said Hayes.
The group said also said the program is widely considered the ‘backbone of America’s public lands policy,’ saying that in Montana alone, $580 million is invested in hundreds of fishing access sites, and community parks and trails from the Rocky Mountain Front to Glacier and Yellowstone.
Daines‘ office said Thursday that the senator was working to get the Lands Package onto the floor for a vote, and he will continue to fight for permanent reauthorization and full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Act.
“We came so close last night to getting the lands package through and permanent reauthorization of LWCF literally going door to door talking to senators,” said Daines in a statement. “We were this close, but we are not giving up the fight. We are taking it right back to the floor in January we have an agreement from leadership the first couple weeks of January.”
Those with Daines’ office said the Lands Package is guaranteed to be heard by the U.S. Senate in 2019.
It’s an agreement Daines was given by both the Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
Tester also is said to have worked with Senate leadership to secure the guarantee that the landmark bill will receive a Senate vote at the beginning of the 116th Congress, which begins on Jan 3.
Story by Andrea Lutz – MTN News