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The Senate just passed a historic environmental bill. Here’s what’s in it

The U.S. Senate on Wednesday overwhelmingly passed an act that provides funding for national parks and public lands. Lisa Desjardins joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the details of the legislation, including where the money will come from, and what else Congress is considering when it comes to action on protecting the environment.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Today, the Senate overwhelmingly passed an act that provides funding for national parks and public lands.

    Our Lisa Desjardins joins me to tell us about this legislation and what else Congress is considering when it comes to the environment.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's right, Judy.

    This is actually an extraordinary bill, bipartisan bill, that's been years in the making, and passed now at this extraordinary time. Let me tell you a little bit about what's in it, first of all.

    This bill passed by the Senate still has to go through the House. But let's start with the top. This would fund deferred maintenance for our national parks and other federal lands, $9.5 billion over five years. That is — those are needs that have been overlooked for a long time.

    This also would permanently fund something called the Land, Water and Conservation Fund. That is something we will talk about more in a minute, and it would fund that by using oil and gas revenues, offshore drilling, Judy.

    Let's go back to the $9.5 billion for our parks and federal lands. Judy, everyone knows that that is one of America's pride and joy, but the truth is, for decades, that those parks have been underfunded.

    Let's talk about our first national park, Yellowstone National Park, for example. In that park, they have not been able to take care of all their roads and trails. And, in addition, some of the staff there have not had housing. So, they actually haven't been able to hire the staff they want because there's nowhere for them to live.

    This is what the bill would provide. Judy, again, bipartisan, passed overwhelmingly in the Senate, and it has some strong hopes in the House as well.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Lisa, tell us why that is. What is it that gives it the support in the House?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Well, I think there is some really important policy here as well.

    Let's talk about that Land, Water and Conservation Fund, for example. That fund is something that is used to add to federal land, including national parks. Say Yellowstone wants to grow. This fund has — which was incorporated in 1965, has been part of the idea that America's public lands are important.

    However, Congress has barely funded it and used a patchwork of temporary funding year after year for it, so it hasn't been dependable. Now it has a permanent funding source. And it will be mandatory funding. Congress will not vote on this every year.

    And what that means is not just more land for national parks, but potentially more land in cities as well, urban areas. That's where a lot of these environmental activists also want to expand federal land.

    This is something that is a big issue, I think, for much of America, and that's why you see many Republicans, not all, but some, supporting it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Lisa, prospects, you were telling us, look good in the House, but not unanimous.

    Tell us what the folks who object to it are saying.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    There are some objections, largely along the cost of this bill.

    While that expansion of the Conservation Fund is paid for by oil and gas revenues, the national park money, for example, is not. So this would add to the deficit. And some have concerns.

    Also, Judy, some opposition coming mostly from livestock groups. They say that this expansion of federal land comes before the federal government has really put together a plan to take care of those lands. As many people know, especially in the Western part of this country, there is often heated debate over federal ownership of land.

    The federal government, in fact, owns more than a quarter of the land in this country. On the other hand, Judy, conservationists say they have a goal of trying to preserve 30 percent of the land in this country by 2030. This bill is part of that effort.

    So, it's a big move for them.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And just finally, Lisa, interesting that this bill does have the Republican support that it does. And you were telling us there's more climate action legislation bubbling up on the Hill.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Right. I want to talk about the politics here.

    One reason also Republicans are supporting this, look at this letter. This is from an environmental — the Evangelical Environmental Network. Judy, 65,000 people who describe themselves as pro-life or anti-abortion Christians signed this letter urging Congress to pass this bill and other environmental bills.

    Essentially, Judy, there is some fervor on the right from religious groups to say, the environment is a life issue. And that is something that we're seeing senators listen to. Also, there are some at-risk senators, Cory Gardner in Colorado, also Steve Daines in Montana, for whom this bill will help.

    And there is more environmental legislation coming up the pike. We will keep an eye on it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Lisa Desjardins reporting on something that hasn't gotten a lot of attention on the Hill in quite some time.

    Lisa, thank you.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    You're welcome.

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