When members of the U.S. House return from the February break next week, something unusual will be waiting for them: a sweeping, 662-page bipartisan package of 110 proposals the Senate approved last week — by a 92-8 vote — that would protect more than 1.3 million acres of newly designated national wilderness from most development, permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund, create four new national monuments, increase Death Valley National Park by 35,000 acres and modernize wildfire-fighting technologies, among other things.
For all the good things contained in the Natural Resources Management Act, it is most surprising for its scope and for the stunning breadth of bipartisan support it received in a Senate that has been hopelessly divided on just about every important business that comes before it.
This is a good collection of initiatives that also has drawn widespread support from conservation groups, though it is far from perfect. No bill this sweeping could be.
The measure would make permanent the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which previously had to be reauthorized every few years. The program, which lapsed because of congressional inaction last year, uses revenue from oil and gas leases on the Outer Continental Shelf to acquire and support public lands and outdoor recreation. Making the fund permanent is the right move, though the bill doesn’t go quite far enough, because it wouldn’t require the revenue actually to be spent for the intended purpose. Only half of about $40 billion raised since 1965 has been spent on conservation efforts; Congress has redirected the rest for other uses.
The package also is notable for what’s not in it.
In the Antiquities Act of 1906, Congress shared with the president its authority to designate federal lands for protection as national monuments.
But President Donald Trump last year asserted authority under the Antiquities Act to slash the amount of land covered by two established monuments in Utah: Bears Ears (originally designated by President Barack Obama) and Grand Staircase-Escalante (by President Bill Clinton). The president’s decision rightfully drew howls from conservationists and legal challenges on the grounds that, while the act gives the president authority to designate monuments, it contains no language enabling him to undo a designation — because doing so would have defeated the purpose of the law.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE LOS ANGELES TIMES