Montana’s U.S. senators expect a bill that would permanently re-establish the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) to move forward this week. The LWCF expired in September due to congressional inaction.
The offices of both Montana’s U.S. senators say a public lands package, including the LWCF, is expected to move onto the floor for debate in the coming days.
Conservation advocacy groups criticized Congress late last year for its failure to reauthorize the LWCF, the decades-old program that uses government revenue from offshore oil and gas leases to fund public lands and recreation projects.
In September, Democratic Sen. Jon Tester blamed Republican leaders in Congress for failing to schedule a vote.
Republican Sen. Steve Daines said Friday there is now an agreement from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to put a package of public lands bills on the floor this week.
"You never can guarantee anything in Washington D.C. until it actually happens, but right now I see a line-of-sight to get this through," Daines says.
Republican Congressman Greg Gianforte, along with Daines and Tester, support permanent reauthorization of the LWCF.
The Fund is believed to have wide bipartisan support, but it failed to win the unanimous backing it needed to speed through the waning days of the Senate in 2018.
Daines says with the timing pressure removed, the LWCF has a path to the president's desk. Once there, Daines says he’s confident President Trump will sign a bill to permanently continue the program.
Dave Chadwick with the Montana Wildlife Federation says the Land and Water Conservation Fund failed last year, in part, because it got snarled up in the dysfunction of the U.S. Congress and political system.
He says the popular LWCF could be a test on the ability of Montana’s congressional delegation to work within that system.
"This week will be a big test, I think. It’s definitely worth noting that our congressional delegation has supported LWCF. They’re continuing to keep the heat up, so we’ll have to see how that unfolds."
Chadwick says even if the Senate moves ahead this week with approving the permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, funding it is another issue that’s tripped up the program in the past.
Late last year, Daines joined a bipartisan group of lawmakers calling for fully funding the LWCF at $900 million annually. It’s unclear when Congress will consider a bill to fund the LWCF.
Since the program was established more than 50 years ago, it has funded nearly $580 million in projects in Montana.