NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Tuesday, February 26th, 2019

Mammoth public lands bill gets resounding vote of support on final passage in U.S. House

A gargantuan-sized, long-awaited public lands bill finally passed out of the United States Congress today after receiving a resounding vote of support on final passage in the House of Representatives. The legislation, S. 47, the Natural Resources Management Act, now awaits action by the President of the United States.

S. 47 is packed to the gills with provisions that will expand America’s national parks system, permanently reauthorize the wildly successful Land & Water Conservation Fund, bolster funding for geologic hazards research and volcano monitoring (which is one of NPI’s legislative priorities), designate new National Heritage Areas, and safeguard places like the headwaters of the Methow Valley from mining.

According to Senator Maria Cantwell’s office (PDF), S. 47 includes more than one hundred and ten individual bills. The legislation has something for everyone… a classic trait of a landmark, sweeping federal bill. Cantwell was deeply involved in putting the bill together and is justifiably celebrating its successful passage.

Although it isn’t quite law yet, S. 47 passed with veto-proof margins in each chamber of Congress, so there would be no point in Trump vetoing it.

The wild and scenic Sandy River

The wild and scenic Sandy River in Oregon (Bureau of Land Management photo)

“Since Scoop Jackson championed the Land and Water Conservation Fund in the 1960s, it has given us so many opportunities for outdoor recreation and development,” Senator Cantwell said in a statement sent to NPI.

“There’s nothing better than just being outdoors – it’s such an important part of our Northwest culture. I am glad the House passed this important legislation, and I hope the President will sign it expeditiously.”

Three hundred and sixty-three U.S. Representatives voted in favor of S. 47. Sixty-two U.S. Representatives, all Republicans, voted against.

The roll call from the Pacific Northwest was as follows:

Voting Aye: Democratic Representatives Suzan DelBene, Rick Larsen, Derek Kilmer, Pramila Jayapal, Kim Schrier, Adam Smith, Denny Heck (WA), Suzanne Bonamici, Earl Blumenauer, Kurt Schrader (OR); Republican Representatives Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Dan Newhouse, Jaime Herrera-Beutler (WA), Greg Walden (OR), Greg Gianforte (MT), Mike Simpson (ID), Don Young (AK)

Voting Nay: Republican Representative Russ Fulcher (ID)

Not Voting: Democratic Representative Pete DeFazio (OR)

Idaho’s Russ Fulcher, a freshman Republican, was the lone no vote against the bill from the Pacific Northwest’s congressional delegation. Even the Trump-loving Greg Gianforte of Montana voted for S. 47, prime sponsored by Lisa Murkowski.

The National Parks Conservation Association says S. 47 will “expand national parks by more than 42,000 acres, expand the National Trails System by 2,600 miles and add 621 miles into the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.”

Two new national monuments will be created and 1.3 million acres in public lands will be designated as wilderness, protecting them from thoughtless development.

“I’ve been fighting hard to permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund, so I’m thrilled the House has taken this important step,” said U.S. Representative Suzan DelBene. “LWCF has contributed over $675 million to Washington’s economy and helped protect some of our most precious national parks, waterways, and wildlife. By passing this legislation, we’ll be able fund more projects throughout our region while protecting our state’s natural beauty. I encourage the President to sign this bill into law without delay.”

“The Land and Water Conservation Fund is the cornerstone of environmental conservation and has helped to preserve Washington state’s public lands as well as Puget Sound’s estuaries, rivers and streams,” said U.S. Representative Rick Larsen.

“Over the last fifty years, the LWCF has helped to protect and restore green spaces like Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve, Chuckanut Bay and the Wild Sky Wilderness for the enjoyment of current and future generations.”

“This package as a whole is a huge win for protecting the natural resources and beautiful lands this country has to offer,” said U.S. Representative Kim Schrier.

“I was very happy that the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan was included in the Public Lands package. Many groups with diverging opinions all came together with the common goal of protecting our delicate Pacific Northwest ecosystem from a changing climate for decades to come. This could become a model throughout the country on how to collaborate to protect our natural resources.”

“We are thrilled by the overwhelming passage of the public lands package in the new, pro-environment House of Representatives,” said League of Conservation Voters President Gene Karpinski in a news release.

“While last year’s Republican-led Congress shamefully let the Land and Water Conservation Fund expire, this bill is a major step forward for conservation by permanently restoring LWCF and protecting more than two million acres of public lands and waters. Permanent LWCF reauthorization is a major accomplishment, and LCV urges Congress to seize this positive momentum to provide LWCF with full and dedicated funds to end the chronic underfunding of this critical program that boosts access to parks and public lands for all communities.”

Here’s a rundown of the major provisions that benefit Washington, courtesy of Senator Maria Cantwell’s press office. The wording in each list item has been edited by NPI for brevity and to remove redundant language.

  • Methow Headwaters Protection Act: Will permanently protect the Methow Valley watershed by removing 340,000 acres of Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest from potential mining development.
  • Yakima River Basin Water Enhancement Project Phase III Act: Authorizes an integrated and collaborative approach to addressing water challenges in the Yakima Valley. Will restore ecosystems and fisheries, ensure communities have access to water, help rehabilitate and repair the Wapato Irrigation Project, and extend water supplies for farmers in times of drought.
  • Wildfire Management Technology Advancement Act: Will increase safety for wildland firefighters and bring federal firefighting agencies across the country into the twenty-first century through the use of GPS (Global Positioning System) and unmanned aircraft systems.
  • Mountains to Sound Greenway National Heritage Act: Will designate 1.5 million acres of land stretching along the I-90 corridor from Seattle to Ellensburg as one of the Pacific Northwest’s first National Heritage Area.
  • National Volcano Early Warning and Monitoring System Act: (a Northwest Progressive Institute legislative priority): Improves our volcano monitoring and early warning capabilities and strengthens existing monitoring systems, including the Cascades Volcano Observatory in Washington and Oregon, to help keep communities and travelers safe.
  • National Nordic Museum Designation: Includes language designating the Nordic Museum in Seattle as the National Nordic Museum, recognizing the museum’s unique work to preserve, celebrate, and educate the American public about Nordic history, culture, and art.
  • Maritime Washington National Heritage Area Act: Will designate a majority of Western Washington’s shoreline as a National Heritage Area to help promote maritime-related tourism, economic development and maritime history as told through Washington State’s museums, historic ships, fishing culture, and other activities. This will be one of Washington’s first National Heritage Areas, along with the Mountains to Sound Greenway.

After so many years of inaction by Congress on environmental priorities, it’s a relief to see this bill pass with such sweeping margins. This is a reminder of what our legislative branch can accomplish when it is functioning properly.

NPI applauds the adoption of S.47. This was long overdue.

Now for the heavier lift: legislation to address the climate crisis.

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