U.S. Senate Does Rare Good Thing

Donald Trump shrank the size of Bears Ears National Monument last January. Photo: Katherine Frey/The Washington Post/Getty Images

The U.S. Senate voted 92-to-8 to pass a 662-page public lands package on Tuesday afternoon, the Washington Post reported. Major environmental groups praised the bill, which the Post called the “most sweeping conservation legislation in a decade.”

Environmental victories have been rare during Donald Trump’s presidency. The president steadfastly denies the reality of climate change and maintains close alliances with fossil-fuel industries; he recently nominated a former coal lobbyist and a former oil lobbyist to head the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Interior, respectively. He’s also hostile to public lands: He drastically shrank the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments in Utah last January, and according to the National Resources Defense Council, the Bureau of Land Management has opened 90 percent of its 248 million acres of public land to leasing by the oil and gas industry. Trump isn’t exactly John Muir, and his party’s not much better.

Tuesday’s bill doesn’t mean that Republicans have come around on the subject of climate change, or that they’ve become enthusiastic conservationists. But as the Post put it, the package was “crammed full of provisions for nearly every senator who cast a vote Tuesday.” The resulting bill accomplishes some longstanding environmental goals:

“Perhaps the most significant change the legislation would make is permanently authorizing a federal program that funnels offshore drilling revenue to conserve everything from major national parks and wildlife preserves to local baseball diamonds and basketball courts. Authorization for the popular program, the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), lapsed months ago due to the partial government shutdown and other disputes. Liberals like the fact that the money allows agencies to set aside land for wildlife habitat. Conservatives like the fact that taxpayers don’t have to foot the bill for it.”

The package also increases the size of the Death Valley and Joshua Tree national parks; the latter made headlines during the government shutdown, after vandals created illegal roads, marked rocks with graffiti, and damaged at least one of its famous Joshua trees. In addition, the package expands hunting and fishing rights on federal land and reauthorizes the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act. Despite Trump’s customary hostility to conservation, the Post also reported that White House officials have indicated that the president intends to sign the bill if it passes the House — which seems likely, considering that Democrats now control the chamber. The public lands package might be a rare, bright spot in an otherwise grim era for American politics.

Senators Actually Did Something Positive for the Environment