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Montana Rep. votes for conservation fund

U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont., on Thursday was the sole Republican to break with party lines by voting for a measure that would have permanently authorized the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which expired at the end of last month.

The reauthorization, offered as an amendment in the House Natural Resources Committee, failed 22-16.

The fund is a 50-year-old program that — prior to its Sept. 30 expiration — used royalties from offshore oil leases on federal lands to provide conservation funding to states.

While proponents of the program’s reauthorization have cited the improvements to local and state parks that it has provided throughout the country, opponents say it needs reform before it can be reauthorized, arguing that it has veered from its original mission and become a tool for federal land acquisition.

“We’re going to reauthorize it, but we’re going to do it the right way,” said committee chairman Rob Bishop, R-Utah, who voted against the amendment. “Forty percent of these funds already, by law, should be going to state projects. Only 16 percent are. The administration is misapplying the law.”

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Rep. Jared Huffman, R-Calif., said he was only offering the reauthorization amendment because Bishop had refused to take up legislation that would open discussions to reauthorize the fund. He offered to withdraw his amendment if he received a commitment from the Republican committee chairman to consider the bill, introduced by Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz.

The fund has contributed more than a half-billion dollars to conservation, park improvements and land acquisition in Montana, and has been supported by a steady chorus of environmental and pro-hunting access groups in the state.

Zinke and Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., have indicated a desire to reform the legislation authorizing it, while Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., has said he wants to see the fund reauthorized in its current form. On Sept. 30 he offered a last-minute stopgap measure to keep the fund authorized for 60 days, which failed on the Senate floor.

While money still remains in the fund, the Sept. 30 expiration means it is no longer accruing any new revenue from offshore drilling.

This article was from Daily Inter Lake, Kalispell, Mont. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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