Something remarkable happened in Washington, D.C., this week.
The vitriol and division among our federal lawmakers was suspended for a significant moment when Republicans and Democrats gathered on March 12 to watch President Donald Trump sign major conservation legislation. It is considered to be the largest package of public lands bills approved by Congress in over a decade.
And Washington state, in particular, will benefit from the achievement.
The John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act contains more than 110 individual bills from dozens of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. It was co-sponsored by Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., who is getting credit for doing much of the heavy lifting needed to get the package through.
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In particular, Cantwell’s effort to save the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) is a huge win for our state and our country.
We have been pushing Congress to continue the popular conservation program since it expired in 2015., but political quibbling kept it alive only temporarily for a few years until it was discontinued last September.
This program was a priority for Cantwell, however, and now it has been permanently reauthorized.
Since it was first launched in 1964, the LWCF has been a source of revenue that provided billions of tax-free money for land preservation projects throughout the country.
Created by former Washington Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson, the fund took money from offshore drilling royalties and natural gas leases and doled it out for environmental purposes. The idea being that companies who use natural resources to make a profit should give something back to the public for conservation.
Since it began, the LWCF has invested $675 million in Washington state’s economy and supported more than 600 projects for parks, trails and other outdoor spaces around the state. These include Olympic National Park and Lake Chelan. In the Tri-Cities, the fund helped pay for the 23-mile Sacajawea Heritage Trail along the Columbia River.
Nationwide, Cantwell’s website notes that the conservation fund supports 7.6 million American jobs and generates over $887 billion in annual consumer spending. In Washington state alone, outdoor recreation supports 201,000 direct jobs and generates over $26 billion in consumer spending.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee praised the federal lands package and said, “Every member of Washington’s congressional delegation had a hand in its successful passage, but we are especially thankful to Sen. Cantwell for her key leadership over several years to get this done.”
In addition to saving the LWCF – which we think is huge – the lands package also authorizes the third phase of the Yakima River Basin Water Enhancement Project, which is a collaborative approach to addressing water challenges in the Yakima Valley.
This is also huge. It addresses water storage issues for farmers, irrigators, conservationists and the tribes.
Along with Cantwell, Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., also attended the Oval Office signing ceremony and said he was “proud to work across the aisle with my colleagues to get this water solution bill for the Yakima Basin across the finish line.”
With so much negative news coming out of Washington, D.C., it is refreshing to hear of a success story like the passage of this monumental public lands package.
We’d like to see more of this cooperative spirit among our federal lawmakers. This latest achievement shows it can be done.