With the recent (and rare) good news on the progress of bills set to address the deferred maintenance and the continued funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), we wanted to share some background and the recent updates regarding these two critical issues.
The LWCF: What Is It and Why Do We Care?
The LWCF was created by Congress in 1964 as a bipartisan commitment to safeguard natural areas, water resources and our cultural heritage, and to provide recreational opportunities to all Americans. This fund is the nation’s primary source for preserving nationally significant public lands, and for providing recreational opportunities in local communities throughout our nation. Every single state in America has benefited from the LWCF.
The program includes two components:
- “Federal Side” funding which is used to acquire lands, waters, and interests therein necessary to achieve the natural, cultural, wildlife, and recreation management objectives of federal land management agencies. National parks, as well as national wildlife refuges, national forests, rivers, and lakes have been set aside for conservation and public enjoyment thanks to funds from the LWCF. These funds also support the strategic acquisition of long-identified inholdings within national parks, allowing for the protection of significant natural, historic, and cultural resources while contributing to more cost-effective park management.
- “State Side funding” provides matching grants to States for planning, land acquisition, and the development of recreational opportunities. Local communities across the United States have benefited from these funds through the creation of children’s playgrounds, swimming pools, trails, and ball fields.
The LWCF does all this without using any state or federal taxpayer dollars. It is supported by three primary revenue streams:
- Surplus property sales of the federal government
- Motorboat fuels taxes
- Revenue from Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) oil and gas drilling
The Fund relies mainly on revenue from the depletion of some natural resources – offshore oil and gas – to support the conservation of other precious resources – our land and water. Every year, $900 million is authorized to go into the fund, with most of that amount coming from OCS revenue. Although Congress only appropriated $431 million of that $900 million for federal land acquisition and the state grant program in FY 2018, every state and territory received a portion of funds from the LWCF. This is a critical investment not only in our quality of life, but in the American economy. Outdoor recreation, conservation, and historic preservation activities contribute more than a trillion dollars annually to the U.S. economy, supporting 9.4 million jobs.
But Congress’ continuing authority to place funds into the LWCF will expire September 30, 2018. Without this money, state and national parks will lose millions of dollars in direct support. Residents from all 50 states and our territories will lose additional money and jobs from a reduction in tourism and related industries that depend on a vibrant state and national park system.
Now the Good News…
The House Natural Resources Committee approved H.R. 502 last week, a critical and bipartisan agreement that would permanently reauthorize the LWCF. Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) and Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Arizona), came to a surprise agreement, which was approved by a unanimous vote. This is a huge victory and would provide relief from the previous, eleventh-hour deals to temporarily authorize the LWCF.
The proposed LWCF bill would allocate 40 percent of money to the fund’s state-side program, 40 percent to the federal land acquisition program, with the remaining 20 percent where it is most needed among the programs. Another provision would set-aside 3 percent for recreation access, requiring the Interior secretary to put together a list of priority projects.
The Coalition strongly supports the actions of the House Natural Resources Committee. We hope that this is the first step in authorizing permanent dedicated funding through the LWCF so that the full $900 million going into the Fund is available each year for the purposes of meeting the land acquisition needs of our federal agencies.
Deferred Maintenance – What’s The Latest?
The other good news addresses the ongoing and substantial maintenance backlog at our parks and public lands. The House Natural Resources Committee also passed the bipartisan, Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act (H.R. 6510) last week. This bill creates a five-year, $6.5 billion fund for Interior agencies to address maintenance and construction backlogs at parks, wildlife refuges, and Bureau of Indian Education schools.
The money for the proposed “National Park Service and Public Lands Legacy Restoration Fund” would be made up of 50 percent of all otherwise unallocated revenue from energy production on federal lands and waters. The Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Bureau of Indian Education would all benefit from the fund.
The Coalition also strongly supports the House Natural Resources Committee’s action to address the deferred maintenance backlog of the National Park Service. For the first time, the NPS will have a dedicated source of funding (up to $1.3 billion per year for the next five fiscal years) to allow it to move forward on hundreds of deferred maintenance projects throughout the service. These deferred maintenance projects will help ensure a better national park experience for thousands of visitors each year by repairing outdated educational and interpretive facilities, upgrading trails and campgrounds, repairing restrooms, and addressing park utility systems and maintenance buildings.
H.R. 6510 will also provide significant resources for numerous deferred transportation projects within our national parks, which represent half of the current maintenance backlog. Funds provided in this bill will help repair roads, bridges, overpasses, and pull-offs used daily by park visitors.
Despite the good news, both bills still have a long way to go. Both the permanent reauthorization of the LWCF and the Restore our Parks and Public Lands Act must pass the House of Representatives. The Senate has yet to take committee action on their versions of the bills.
The Coalition will continue to advocate for both measures and urge our representatives to act swiftly to permanently reauthorize the LWCF and address the substantial problem of deferred maintenance. And with a September 30 deadline looming for the LWCF, we must continue to push for immediate action.
Keep an eye on this site and our social media – we promise to keep you posted.