WASHINGTON — The Senate on Wednesday approved a major land conservation bill that activists have sought for years, delivering a rare bipartisan win propelled by the election-year interests of endangered Republicans.
In a 73-25 vote, the Senate sent to the House legislation that would guarantee that the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund receives its annual $900 million allocation and also set aside $9.5 billion over five years to tackle a long-standing maintenance backlog in the national parks.
Advocates who have been battling to secure the reliable fiscal commitment almost since the fund for acquisition and preservation of public lands was created in 1965 hailed the legislation as one of the signature environmental accomplishments of recent years and said it was remarkable Congress could achieve it in a period of such intense partisanship.
“It is a testament to the importance of this historic conservation legislation that has brought so many of us together during such a toxic atmosphere,” said Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, the chief Democratic sponsor of the Great American Outdoors Act.
The bill has widespread support in the House and is expected to move quickly to final passage.
Passage of the bill was a political triumph for two Senate Republicans in tough races — Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado and Sen. Steve Daines of Montana — who were the designated Republican point men on the bill.
The legislation had its Republican detractors, which would usually be sufficient grounds for Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, who prefers to keep intraparty divisions out of public view, to avoid bringing it up on the floor. But McConnell allowed the legislation to proceed and used a procedural tactic to block amendments, drawing the ire of some of his Republican colleagues.
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and some other Western Republicans worried that guaranteed money for the fund, which relies on offshore oil and gas drilling royalties to acquire private land for public access and use, would lead to more government holdings in their states.
Backers of the measure said failing to act now on the maintenance backlog would only put off the borrowing, leaving it to future generations to pay for it.
This article was written by Carl Hulse, a reporter for The New York Times.