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Heinrich, Udall seek permanent money for conservation fund

U.S. Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich were among the senators introducing legislation this past week to permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund at a level of $900 million.

“In February, we secured permanent reauthorization for the LWCF, a major conservation victory that I have championed for years,” Udall said in a statement. “Full funding is the necessary next step. As the ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee responsible for LWCF funding, I have been proud to secure major funding for this essential program for several years in a row.”

Heinrich said in New Mexico the fund has helped preserve many public lands, including the Valles Caldera, Ute Mountain and Valle de Oro National Wild Refuge in the South Valley.”It also protects our drinking water, provides public land access, and ensures there are neighborhood parks, soccer fields, and baseball diamonds for our children,” he said in a news release.

As part of the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act, which was enacted into law last month, Congress permanently authorized the LWCF. However, expenditures from the LWCF continue to be subject to federal appropriations.

President Donald Trump’s proposed budget, in fact, did not include funding for the LWCF.

Sen. Martin Heinrich

“I don’t think that Congress will take that zero as advisory to say the least,” Heinrich told the Journal last month. “It was disappointing. He had the celebratory signing saying he liked the bill. But then his budget was a big step back.”

In New Mexico, LWCF has invested more than $312 million to protect public lands and open spaces and increase recreational opportunities. New Mexico’s $9.9 billion outdoor industry – which is built around places that have benefited from LWCF – is a significant economic driver in the state, supporting 99,000 jobs and $2.8 billion in wages, New Mexico’s Democratic senators said.

Sen. Tom Udall

SPLIT SENATORS: Udall and Heinrich weren’t united when it came to the Thursday vote on David Bernhardt as secretary of the Department of the Interior.

Heinrich voted for Bernhardt’s confirmation, Udall opposed it.

“He understands the importance to New Mexicans of protecting our public lands and cultural resources and he has been supportive of efforts to advance protections for White Sands and unlock public access to the Sabinoso Wilderness” in San Miguel County, Heinrich said.

But before the vote Udall said, “He’s shut out scientists, Native Americans, conservationists, and the American people. He’s tangled in conflicts. The Senate should stop the rush to confirm Deputy Secretary Bernhardt while these fundamental ethics and conflicts of interest questions are under review.”

Bernhardt, who had been Interior’s acting secretary and deputy secretary, was confirmed 56-41.

Rep. Xochitl Torres Small

TORRES SMALL’S BILL CLEARS HOUSE: U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, D-N.M., introduced the BRIDGE for Workers Act with representatives from Florida, Indiana and Illinois. The bill she co-sponsored seeks to help people who are unemployed get back to work faster by connecting them with reemployment services earlier in the unemployment process.

“New Mexico continues to suffer from one of the highest unemployment rates in the country,” the 2nd Congressional District representative said. “This issue is personal – after my dad lost his job, it took years for him to retrain and find his second calling. When hardworking people get the help they need to find a job, we all succeed. This bill will help to connect those out of work with the critical resources and services they need to help find employment faster.”

This is the first bill Torres Small has sponsored that has passed the House. It is now headed to the Senate.

Scott Turner: sturner@abqjournal.com

 

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