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Gardner: Progress on BLM move, farm bill and ‘we won’t give up’ on LWCF

Author: Marianne Goodland - September 8, 2018 - Updated: September 27, 2018

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Gardner BLMU.S. Cory Gardner, left, and Sen. Michael Bennet, at right, talk to a vendor at the Winter Outdoor Retailer market in Denver in January, (Photo by Joey Bunch/Colorado Politics)

Republican Sen. Cory Gardner of Yuma on Saturday updated members of the West Slope advocacy group Club 20 efforts to make Grand Junction the next home of the federal Bureau of Land Management. He also spoke to Colorado Politics about the efforts to renew the Land and Water Conservation Fund (hopeful) and the status of the Farm Bill (close).

Gardner said he had met Saturday morning with a long list of parties interested in seeing the BLM move to Grand Junction. That included the Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce, regional mayors and county commissioners, representatives from economic development and the governor’s office.

RELATED: COVER STORY | Grand Junction shines as D.C. eyes new home for BLM

Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke favors the move, Gardner said. “Now we have to make sure that Grand Junction is the place where we make this happen.”

The BLM move makes sense because much of the agency’s regulations affect the Western Slope, home to has 250,000 acres of public land, Gardner explained. “Why not just move to Colorado where you’re dealing with the people you’re trying to put the rulings on?”

Decisions will be better made when managers make those calls in the communities in which they live, Gardner said, not to mention the jobs such a move will bring to the Western Slope.

Colorado is a good location for the BLM, according to John Swartout, Hickenlooper’s senior policy advisor for rural policy and outreach. That’s because of a long-standing good relationship between the agency and Colorado governors. “There have of course been disagreements” at times, he told Colorado Politics, but overall the relationship with BLM has been strong for years.

Gardner also spoke to Colorado Politics about several pending actions in Congress that are nearing the deadline for the end of the 2017-18 session.

With both houses of Congress now back in session, among the largest items remaining on the plate is what to do, if anything, about the federal  Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which is set to expire on Sept. 30. A number of bills, including one offered by a coalition of bipartisan senators, including Gardner and his Democratic counterpart, Sen. Michael Bennet of Denver, intend to permanently authorize and fully fund the program, That bill is an amendment to an appropriations bill that would fund the ag department as well as the Department of the Interior.

The LWCF gets its money from federal oil and gas lease revenues from offshore drilling. Its recommended funding is $900 million per year, although it rarely gets the full amount.

LWCF grants have gone to more than 1,000 outdoor and recreational projects in Colorado. And because those grants must be leveraged with other dollars, its impact goes way beyond the $61 million the Centennial State has been awarded over the years.

Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife estimates state projects have won $147 million from the fund, with another $120 million awarded for federal projects.

RELATED: INSIGHTS | Left won’t take Gardner at his word on support for parks

“There are a lot of ways this could pass,” Gardner said, including through his legislation or one of several appropriations bills that are working their way through conference committees.

“We have gone to the floor, we have offered this through unanimous consent agreements, we’ve made motions, we’ve put holds on legislation,” Gardner said. “We aren’t giving up and not going away until we get this done.” Gardner added he has spoken multiple times to Secretary Zinke about the effort. “Colorado is really united. We just have to make sure we are a loud voice for LWCF reauthorization.”

To date, permanent reauthorization and full funding for the LWCF is supported by five of the seven member’s of Colorado’s Congressional delegation: Gardner, Bennet; Republican Reps. Scott Tipton of Cortez and Mike Coffman of Aurora; as well as the three Democratic representatives, Ed Perlmutter of Arvada, Diana DeGette of Denver and Jared Polis of Boulder.

Gardner noted a celebration last week was tied to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, which added 552 acres surrounding the canyon’s rim that will protect the area from development. That was a $1.4 million LWCF project. “Had that not happened, you could see a scenario” where motels could be built right up to the rim. Now that land is protected for future generations, he added.

The news is somewhat better on the status of the farm bill, which also must be completed before Congress adjourns for the year. Gardner said the conference committee working to resolve the differences is nearing agreement, and that he expects the final version to look much more like the Senate version than the House.

That’s likely to mean that the final bill that goes to the President will not include sweeping changes to work requirements for adults without minor children and who are enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps. The House Freedom Caucus insisted on that language being included in the farm bill and those changes are also supported by the Trump administration.

However, the Senate version left that specific item out, largely because it would have required the bill to obtain 60 votes to pass the Senate and Democrats refused to budge.

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland is the chief legislative reporter for Colorado Politics. She's covered the Colorado General Assembly for 20 years, starting off in 1998 with the Silver & Gold Record, the editorially-independent newspaper at CU that was shuttered in 2009. She also writes for six rural newspapers in northeastern Colorado. Marianne specializes in rural issues, agriculture, water and, during election season, campaign finance. In her free time (ha!) she lives in Lakewood with her husband, Jeff; a cantankerous Shih-Tzu named Sophie; and Gunther the cat. She is also an award-winning professional harpist.