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Gardner bucks party line on public-lands bill

Outdoor group presents 18,000 signatures opposing more state management on federal lands

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., voted against many of his Republican colleagues on a measure that would allow states to gain greater control of federal public lands during a Tuesday morning business meeting of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Nearly 18,000 sportsmen have signed a petition to oppose the sale or transfer of federal public lands to the states, according to the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

The group cautioned that earlier this year, the Senate passed a budget resolution that encourages lawmakers to “sell, or transfer to, or exchange with, a state or local government any federal land not within the boundaries of a national park, national preserve, or national monument.”

Tuesday’s meeting started with a warning from Chairwoman Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, that she would not support partisan amendments to the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015.

The energy bill, which Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., lauded as the first bipartisan energy legislation since 2009, includes provisions to modernize the energy grid, reauthorize state weatherization and energy-efficiency programs and promote general energy production and transmission infrastructure.

Following Murkowski’s call for comity, lawmakers withdrew several controversial amendments in the spirit of bipartisanship.

Among them was an amendment from Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, that would dedicate a source of funding for an extremely popular program among Western leaders – Payment in Lieu of Taxes. PILT compensates states that house large amounts of federal lands for the loss of revenue they experience because states are unable to collect property taxes on federal land.

But Murkowski supported one controversial amendment from Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., to give more control of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) to states.

The LWCF is supplied through revenues from oil and gas companies. The government uses it to purchase sensitive private land to protect it from development.

Money from the program, which has been used to expand the Animas River Trail in Durango, flows in two streams – one federal and one state.

The bill under consideration sets aside 40 percent of the money for federal use and 40 percent for state use with room in the middle for flexibility of use.

Barrasso’s amendment would have given 10 percent more of the LWCF money to states for their control.

Murkowski voted for the amendment, saying she thought it was a reasonable compromise.

“I think the bill, as crafted, is the compromise,” Cantwell said in opposition.

The amendment failed 15-7.

“It’s common-sense policy and supported by sportsmen, hunters, recreationists and countless Coloradans,” said Gardner’s spokeswoman, Megan Taylor.

mbaksh@durangoherald.com. Mariam Baksh is a student at American University in Washington, D.C., and an intern for The Durango Herald.

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