Great American Outdoors Act Passes House With Bipartisan Support
It's a rare bill that garners sweeping bipartisan support these days. Lawmakers, however, agree that one of the country's treasures, the U.S. national parks, is worth preserving.
As EcoWatch reported, the Senate approved the bill in June in a 73-25 vote. The bill, which is being hailed as one of the most important environmental bills to pass in decades, secures permanent funding for the Land Water Conservation Fund (LCWF). It passed the house in a 310-107 vote and now moves to Trump's desk.
The Land Water Conservation Fund, which was established in the 1960s, is a little-known bill that produces substantial public benefit. It uses revenue from the oil and gas industry to finance national parks and federal historic sites. A major portion of the fund is also allocated to local and state parks and playgrounds, according to Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB).
"This is a historic victory over 50 years in the making for communities across the country that benefit from the economic, cultural and recreational value of America's public lands and close-to-home recreation," said the LWCF coalition, an organization that advocates for the fund, in a statement, as OPB reported.
The LWCF has been chronically underfunded, but the Great American Outdoors Act will require mandatory funding of $900 million annually, without using a penny of taxpayer dollars, as CNN reported.
"It's clear that national parks have united Americans of all kinds of backgrounds, not just those who are actively involved in the political process," wrote Sen. Steven Daines (R-MT) and Benji Backer, founder of the American Conservation Coalition, in The Hill. "In 2018, a Pew poll demonstrated that 94 percent of Americans thought it was important to preserve historic buildings and landmarks. That's why this bill is so unique. Not only is it a landmark piece of legislation, but the broad coalitions who support it are just as impressive. Republicans and Democrats alike know that Americans want national parks preserved for many, many years to come."
Sen. Daines pushed for the passage of the bill along with Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado. Both are battling for their Senate seat in a swing state where the president's popularity is sinking. The Republican-controlled Senate seems to have advanced the legislation to give both senators a win to boast about in their upcoming campaigns, as EcoWatch reported in June.
In addition to funding the LCWF, the bill addresses backlogged maintenance projects on federal lands run by the National Park Service, the Forest Service and other agencies.
"The Great American Outdoors Act affirms our shared commitment to caring for America's special places by providing significant resources to address national park deferred maintenance," said Will Shafroth, president and CEO of the National Park Foundation, the official nonprofit partner to the National Park Service, in a statement. "Tackling our parks' long overdue maintenance needs will ensure these places are safe and accessible for all, continue fueling local economies, and offer education and inspiration for generations to come."
As CNN noted, congressional Democrats, including Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, have fought for permanent reauthorization and full funding of the LWCF for years, making the passage of the bill a major victory for Democrats.
"The stars aligned correctly this time," Grijalva said in an interview with CNN ahead of the vote on Wednesday. "This is a popular program, people want it, and I think regardless of party people are responding."
"To have it on the brink of being approved is personally very satisfying and — worth the work," he said.
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By Simon Montlake
For more than a decade, Susan Jane Brown has been battling to stop a natural gas pipeline and export terminal from being built in the backcountry of Oregon. As an attorney at the nonprofit Western Environmental Law Center, she has repeatedly argued that the project's environmental, social, and health costs are too high.
All that was before this month's deadly wildfires in Oregon shrouded the skies above her home office in Portland. "It puts a fine point on it. These fossil fuel projects are contributing to global climate change," she says.
Moderates Feeling the Heat<p>If elected, Mr. Biden has vowed to stop new drilling for oil and gas on federal land and in federal waters and to rejoin the 2015 Paris climate accord that President Donald Trump gave notice of quitting. He would reinstate Obama-era regulations of greenhouse gas emissions, including methane, the largest component of natural gas.</p><p>The Biden climate platform also states that all federal infrastructure investments and federal permits would need to be assessed for their climate impacts. Analysts say such a test could impede future LNG plants and pipelines, though not those that already have federal approval. </p><p>Climate change activists who pushed for that language say much depends on who would have oversight of federal agencies that regulate the industry. Some are wary of Biden's reliance on advice from Obama-era officials, including former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, who is now on the board of Southern Company, a utility, and a former Obama environmental aide, Heather Zichal, who has served on the board of Cheniere Energy, an LNG exporter. </p>
The Push for U.S. Fuel Exports<p>As vice president, Biden was part of an administration that pushed hard for global climate action while also promoting U.S. oil and gas exports to its allies and trading partners. As fracking boomed, Obama ended a 40-year ban on crude oil exports. In Europe, LNG was touted both as an alternative to coal and as strategic competition with Russian pipelines.</p><p>That much, at least, continued with President Trump. Under Energy Secretary Rick Perry, the agency referred to liquified U.S. hydrocarbons as "<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/29/us/freedom-gas-energy-department.html" target="_blank">freedom gas</a>."</p><p>Mr. Trump has also championed the interests of coal, oil, and gas while denigrating the findings of government climate scientists. He rejected the Paris accord as unfair to the U.S. and detrimental to its economy, but has offered no alternative path to emissions cuts. </p><p>Still, Trump's foreign policy has not always served the LNG industry: Tariffs on foreign steel drove up pipeline costs, and a trade war with China stayed the hand of Chinese LNG importers wary of reliance on U.S. suppliers. </p><p>Even his regulatory rollbacks could be a double-edged sword. By relaxing curbs last month on methane leaks, the U.S. has ceded ground to European regulators who are drafting emissions standards that LNG producers are watching closely. "That's a precursor of fights that will be fought in all the rest of the developed world," says Mr. Hutchison. </p><p>Indeed, some oil-and-gas exporters had urged the Trump administration not to abandon the tougher rules, since they undercut their claim to offer a cleaner-burning way of producing heat and electricity. "U.S. LNG is not going to be able to compete in a world that's focused on methane emissions and intensity," says Erin Blanton, a senior research scholar at the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University. </p>
Stepping on the Gas<p>In July, the Department of Energy issued an export license to Jordan Cove's developer, Canada's Pembina Pipeline Corp. In a statement, Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette said the project would provide "reliable, affordable, and cleaner-burning natural gas to our allies around the world."</p><p>As a West Coast terminal, Jordan Cove offers a faster route to Asia where its capacity of 7.8 million tons of LNG a year could serve to heat more than 15 million homes. At its peak, its construction would also create 6,000 jobs, the company says, in a stagnant corner of Oregon.</p><p>But the project still lacks multiple local and state permits, and its biggest asset – a Pacific port – has become its biggest handicap, says Ms. Blanton. "They are putting infrastructure in a state where there's no political support for the pipeline or the terminal, unlike in Louisiana or Texas," she says. </p><p>Ms. Brown, the environmental lawyer, says she wants to see Jordan Cove buried, not just mothballed until natural gas prices recover. But she knows that it's only one among many LNG projects and that others will likely get built, even if Biden is elected in November, despite growing evidence of the harm caused by methane emissions. </p>
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