June 17, 2020 / 7:27 PM / 18 days ago

U.S. Senate overwhelmingly passes major conservation bill

(Reuters) - The U.S. Senate on Wednesday passed a major conservation bill that would permanently direct $900 million a year to a long-standing federal program aimed at acquiring and protecting public lands.

The 73-25 vote in the Republican-led chamber was a rare bipartisan effort led by Republican Senators Cory Gardner of Colorado and Steve Daines of Montana, as well as Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Both Gardner and Daines are up for re-election this year.

The Great American Outdoors Act, if enacted into law, would insulate the Land and Water Conservation Fund from the congressional appropriations process. It guarantees $900 million in annual funding that comes from royalties paid by offshore oil and gas drilling operations.

The LWCF was created in 1964, but Congress in most years has diverted funding for it to other uses. It received $495 million in funding last year.

The Great American Outdoors Act provides $9.5 billion over five years for deferred maintenance projects on public lands including national parks and forests.

The legislation now moves to the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives, where it is expected to pass. President Donald Trump has said he would sign the bill into law.

Reporting by Nichola Groom; Editing by Peter Cooney

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