February 27, 2019 / 12:07 AM / 6 months ago

U.S. House passes bill funding conservation via drilling royalties

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The House of Representatives on Tuesday easily passed a public lands bill on Tuesday, as the Senate did earlier this month, that permanently reauthorizes a fund that has funneled billions of dollars into land conservation, paid for by revenues from offshore oil and gas drilling.

Light illuminates clouds as people watch the sunrise at Haleakala National Park in Hawaii, U.S., October 9, 2018. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar

The bill passed 363-62, representing a rare moment of bipartisan agreement in Congress, with lawmakers eager to see money go to outdoors projects in their states. It permanently reauthorizes the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which was created by Congress in 1964 but which has occasionally been allowed to expire, most recently last September.

The Senate voted 92-8 earlier this month on the bill, and President Donald Trump is expected to sign it.

Each year about $900 million in royalties paid by energy companies drilling on the U.S. outer continental shelf go to the fund that pays for items from improving ball fields to expanding national parks and wildlife refuges.

Representative Raul Grijalva, a Democrat and chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, called the bill “one of the biggest partisan wins for this country I’ve ever seen in Congress” and thanked Republican colleagues, including Representative Rob Bishop and Senator Lisa Murkowski for compromises on it.

Trump is expected to sign the bill even though he has pursued a policy of energy dominance and opening public lands to coal mining and oil and gas drilling. His administration shrunk the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah and has pushed to open part of Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling.

The bill creates four national monuments, including the Medgar and Myrlie Evers Home in Mississippi, and prevents industrial mining around others. Medgar Evers was an African-American veteran and civil rights leader who was assassinated in 1963 by a white segregationist.

The legislation adds 1.3 million acres to U.S. wilderness preservation programs in California, Oregon, New Mexico and other Western states, and expands three national parks.

Representative Don Young, a Republican, said he did not get everything he wanted in the bill, but added, “This is the beginning of working together on public lands.”

One lawmaker poured cold water on hopes of sustained bipartisanship on other environmental legislation.

Representative Jeff Duncan, a Republican, called the Green New Deal resolution introduced by two Democrats, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey, “asinine” and said it would jeopardize the conservation fund by leading a switch from petroleum to alternative fuels.

Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Leslie Adler

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