Daines, Tester chide fellow lawmakers for blocking vote on public lands package

Sen. Steve Daines chided fellow lawmakers Wednesday night for failing to vote on a public lands package that included the permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund and a withdrawal of mineral rights near Yellowstone National Park.

However, Daines said, he received confirmation from Senate leadership that a vote on the lands package would take place in January when the new Congress convenes. Sen. Jon Tester received similar assurance on his Yellowstone Gateway Protection Act.

“There’s over 100 bills in there with a lot of careful thought,” Daines said. “All we wanted here tonight was an up or down vote, and we didn’t get it. We’re going to bring this bill back to the floor of the U.S. Senate in January. We’re going to move this through to the House and fight to get it on the president’s desk as one of the early acts of Congress in 2019.”

The Senate came together Wednesday to extend funding for federal agencies through February. The continuing resolution included funding for the EPA and the Department of Interior, but it didn’t fully fund LWCF and the mandatory level.

“Had we had the opportunity to vote here tonight, you would have seen this lands package pass the U.S. Senate by at least a 2-1 margin,” Daines said. “It would have gone to the House and passed, and gone to President Trump’s desk, and I’m confident he would have signed it.”

The Land and Water Conservation Fund was established in 1964 to safeguard public lands, water resources and cultural heritage. But it expired in September, and while a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers have fought to see it renewed, those efforts have failed.

Sens. Daines and Jon Tester, along with Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, and Richard Burr, R-North Carolina, have been the program’s most outspoken supporters. They’ve gathered outside the Capitol with advocates several times urging action in the Senate.

“I feel like every time we get together with this deadline looming, we’re on a re-education program about what LWCF is,” Burr said in June as the LWCF was set to expire. “People across this country, from the West Coast to the East Coast, know what good work LWCF is doing.”

Along with reauthorization for LWCF, the public lands package also included a long-sought withdrawal of mineral rights near Yellowstone National Park.

“The people who are closest to the lands ought to have the loudest voice,” Daines said. “The people in the Paradise Valley south of Livingston don’t want to see a large mining operation near Chico. It’s time to withdraw the rights there and allow the back door to Yellowstone to be protected in perpetuity. That was part of this lands package here tonight.”

Tester also expressed frustration over Wednesday’s politics, saying his Yellowstone Gateway Protection Act was blocked by Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, from getting a vote.

Tester said he secured a guarantee from Senate leadership that his legislation would get that vote as Congress begins on Jan. 3.

“The Yellowstone Gateway Protection Act has been years in the making and now Senate passage is in sight,” Tester said.  “I will hold Congress accountable to our agreement and make sure that they deliver on their promise to permanently protect the doorstep of Yellowstone Park from mining that will hurt our economy and harm our clean water.”