The sun sets at Grand Canyon National Park in northern Arizona. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart

THE NEUTRAL ZONE

The U.S. Senate passed a bipartisan conservation bill Wednesday that would give nearly $3 billion to conservation projects, outdoor recreation, and national park and public land maintenance. The Great American Outdoors Act will permanently allocate $900 million a year to the Land and Water Conservation Fund and directs $9.5 billion over five years to “address the maintenance backlog.” With a 73-25 winning margin in the Republican-controlled Senate, the bill will now move to the House, where it is expected to pass. President Donald Trump has said he would sign the bill into law when it reaches his desk.

Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) sponsored the bill alongside Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV). Gardner proclaimed the legislation was “the chance of a lifetime” and said, “This really is an opportunity for this nation to come together at a time of great need, economically and I think spiritually, quite frankly.” Gardner faces a reelection campaign in 2020, called the “toughest race of his career.” Vanessa Harmoush, communications director for Rocky Mountain Values, accused Gardner of using the bill as a “prop” to win the election, noting that “he hasn’t been a great advocate for public lands and conservation over the last few years.” The League of Conservation Voters gave Gardner a 36% on their national Environmental scorecard for 2019, with an 11% lifetime score.

Despite the optimistic news regarding the Great American Outdoors Act, not all news was positive for the environment this week. Today, Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency, warned the world has 6 months to reverse climate change and prevent a “post-lockdown rebound in greenhouse gas emissions.” A World Wildlife Fund report brought to light the risk that other zoonotic (animal to human transmission) diseases could emerge in the near future if a global environmental response is not coordinated. On June 15, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a permit for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to cross under the Appalachian Trail. Last week, the Trump Administration enacted rules that reversed Obama-era policies on hunting tactics called “amazingly cruel” by conservationists.

MEDIA PERSPECTIVE

Outdoor Rec Just Got Its Own Stimulus Bill – Outside Online – 6/17/2020
It’s a remarkable breakthrough at a time when the White House has been hostile to federal conservation and land-management agencies and to the LWCF; Trump’s proposed 2021 budget slashed the Park Service budget by $587 million and allocated just $15 million to the LWCF, a mere 1.6 percent of its allotment. […] Proponents, including the bill’s sponsor, Republican Cory Gardner of Colorado, tout the Great American Outdoors Act as a way to get people back to work after millions have been laid off in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

U.S. Senate passes public lands bill; Colorado Dems accuse Gardner of ‘greenwashing’ – The Journal – 6/17/2020
Democrats also support the bill but have accused Gardner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of “greenwashing” by bringing up the bill during an election year. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., noted that he had introduced legislation to permanently reauthorize and fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund in every Congress since he was elected in 2010, but this was the first time funding had received robust bipartisan support.

Conservation could create jobs post-pandemic – The Conversation – 6/18/2020
Earlier this month, President Trump signed an executive order making it easier for pipeline projects and other oil and gas development to progress, claiming environmental regulations cause economic burdens and cost jobs. A more effective way to stimulate the economy and protect the environment, my work suggests, is to pass legislation such as the Great American Outdoors Act, a bill the Senate will vote on later this week. The House introduced companion legislation earlier this month.

Pandemics result from destruction of nature, say UN and WHO – The Guardian – 6/17/2020
Pandemics such as coronavirus are the result of humanity’s destruction of nature, according to leaders at the UN, WHO and WWF International, and the world has been ignoring this stark reality for decades. The illegal and unsustainable wildlife trade as well as the devastation of forests and other wild places were still the driving forces behind the increasing number of diseases leaping from wildlife to humans, the leaders told the Guardian.

In Europe, climate change brings new crops, new ideas – Deutsche Welle – 6/17/2020
A September 2019 report by the European Environment Agency (EEA) noted that heat stress, extreme weather events like flash floods and hailstorms, and water shortages have already changed growing conditions for several crops in Europe — especially for Mediterranean staples like olives and wine grapes. Places in northern Europe, meanwhile, could see agricultural benefits from climate change, including longer growing seasons and a shorter frost period “allowing the cultivation of new crops and varieties,” said the report.

INFLUENCER PERSPECTIVE

The Senate Majority on Twitter, 6/18/2020: Thanks to @CoryGardner’s hard work, the Great American Outdoors Act has passed the Senate. This historic bill will provide millions in funding for the Land and Conservation Fund, create jobs, and protect national parks for years to come. #COSen #copolitics

SenateEnergyDems on Twitter, 6/17/2020: The Great American Outdoors Act is a shining example of the good that Congress can do when it comes together and puts politics aside to do what is best for our country! #GreatOutdoors

The Nature Conservancy on Twitter, 6/17/2020: The U.S. Senate today voted 73-25 to pass the Great American Outdoors Act! 🌲A once-in-a-generation legislation to fully #FundLWCF and #FixOurParks.

U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy, M.D. on Twitter, 6/17/2020: The Senate missed an opportunity to invest in coastal resiliency to protect against flooding and hurricanes. This is money the coast needs for its communities to survive. This fight is not over.

Craig Caplan on Twitter, 6/17/2020: All 25 Senators voting No against the Great American Outdoors Act led by GOP Senators Gardner and Daines were Republicans.

Jim Matheny WBIR on Twitter, 6/18/2020: I’m surprised Sen. Marsha Blackburn voted against the Great American Outdoors Act to fund national park repairs. It passed easily. Sen. Lamar Alexander championed it as vital for the Smokies. TN biz leaders support it. Trump supports it. Unexpected nay to this outside spectator.

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