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Michael B.
Democrat CO

About Sen. Michael
  • Unanimous Consent Request—S. 338

    by Senator Michael F. Bennet

    Posted on 2015-02-05

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    BENNET. I thank my friend from North Carolina for his efforts, and I wish to echo a lot of the points he already made so well, especially about how we stand here today having this fair, reasonable, unanimous consent request that the Senator from North [[Page S818]] Carolina has asked for, as we stand here today when essentially what we are talking about is a promise that has been broken by this Congress to the American people for 50 years.

    I thank, through the Chair, my colleague from North Carolina for trying to rectify that.

    I am disappointed that our unanimous consent request was objected to, but I know this measure has plenty of support. As he mentioned, we led an amendment on the floor last week with the exact same text of the bill that we are discussing today. When the dust settled, that amendment received 59 votes, but I have a hunch that it would comfortably clear the 60-vote threshold were it to be considered again. And it should be considered again.

    The measure is simple. As Senator Burr said, it simply reauthorizes the Land and Water Conservation Fund and ensures that a dedicated portion of LWCF funds go to provide new access for our Nation's sports men and women.

    As most in this body know, LWCF is one of the country's best conservation programs. It provides $900 million annually to preserve our public lands and increase access to them. Not only do we need to pass this bill to reauthorize the program, but we need to ensure that we dedicate full and mandatory funding to the initiative, as Congress intended when we created the program in 1964.

    Historically, LWCF resources have been used for all types of projects, ranging from building city parks to purchasing small parcels of isolated land from willing sellers and all the way to preserving our Nation's historic battlefields.

    In Colorado, we have used LWCF for a wide variety of projects beyond traditional conservation. For example, LWCF was of critical importance to our State following a major natural disaster in 1976. That year an intense rainstorm caused massive flooding around Colorado's Big Thompson River. The flood claimed the lives of 145 Coloradans and caused more than $35 million in damages.

    Once the horrible tragedy passed, the community had to rebuild. Rather than constructing houses back in the flood plain, Larimer County turned to LWCF to acquire the affected land and compensated the families whose homes were destroyed.

    Those flood plains are now home to four new county parks--popular destinations for birdwatchers, anglers, and family picnics--instead of vulnerable structures. When another huge flood hit in the fall of 2013, the rivers ran black and eventually surged over their banks, as we can see from this photo I have in the Chamber.

    Luckily, the flood plains, protected by LWCF and the creativity of our local folks, saw much less damage this time. The floodwaters inundated the open, undeveloped spaces instead of destroying homes and businesses, and Larimer County avoided about $16 million in estimated property damages.

    It is incredible to think that an LWCF investment of just over $1 million in 1976 saved us more than 15 times that amount in 2013.

    Beyond the example from Larimer County, communities all across Colorado have used LWCF to preserve sensitive landscapes and to help their local economies. This past summer, we completed a huge LWCF project in the San Juan National Forest near the town of Ophir. I spoke briefly about this project last week, and I will mention it again today because the work of the town of Ophir and the people of Ophir, along with their partners, the Trust for Public Land, were truly remarkable.

    If memory serves, it is a project that took 12 years from start to finish. It had to be done in phases. LWCF funds were used to acquire several old mining claims above town, preserving the scenic beauty and ensuring that the area will remain undeveloped forever.

    In this picture, if you ignore the center with these people in front of me, we can see how beautiful it is. This is a picture of the newly preserved landscape in Ophir. A group of us gathered to celebrate the accomplishment this past summer.

    Most of these mountain communities get huge portions of their revenue and business from recreation and tourism. It is for some of these reasons that the town felt the Land and Water Conservation Fund literally helped secure their economic future.

    This is a small, rural community in my home State. It is far away from this floor. LWCF has made a huge difference for Ophir.

    These are two stories from Colorado, but I know they have been replicated thousands of times across the country and in all 50 States. Those stories and accomplishments alone make this bill worth supporting.

    As I mentioned earlier, Congress wrote and passed LWCF in 1964, and it is beyond time to reauthorize it. Senator Burr has shown great leadership in crafting a bill to do just that.

    Conservation policies--from LWCF to farm bill easement programs, from wilderness to national parks--are important to the American people. The American people support this work. Protecting our land and water is part of our everyday lives in Colorado, and I know our State is not the only one.

    Conserved lands and wide-open spaces are a huge economic driver across the country, a huge part of our culture. They are who we are in the West. We should do right by the American people and reauthorize this program as soon as possible. Then we ought to work together to ensure that LWCF gets the full and mandatory funding going forward that was promised 50 years ago by Congress.

    With that, I yield the floor.

    I suggest the absence of a quorum.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.

    The bill clerk proceeded to call the roll.

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