Senate Approves Permanent Reauthorization of LWCF
Last week, the U.S. Senate overwhelmingly approved a comprehensive energy reform package (S. 2012) which includes permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). The bill includes a significant change to how future LWCF dollars would be distributed by requiring a minimum of 40 percent of annual LWCF support go to a "suite" of existing programs which benefit the states, including:
- The State Assistance Program
- Forest Legacy Program
- Co-Operative Endangered Species grants
- American Battlefields preservation grants
The legislation now moves to the Conference Committee where the House and Senate will negotiate a final legislative package with the goal of sending it to the White House for Presidential approval later this year.
NRPA applauds the Senate on the passage of a permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). We also appreciate the Senate acknowledging the need to ensure that some amount of annual LWCF dollars go to support close-to-home, community recreation. While the 40 percent minimum annual allocation for what we’re calling a "stateside suite" of programs is an improvement over the existing law, we will continue to work with both the House and Senate to guarantee robust and dependable funding is annually provided to the State Assistance Program specifically.
The original LWCF Act called for 60 percent funding to the State Assistance Program, so it's reasonable that the formula grants to the states for outdoor recreation should receive a more equitable — and dependable — distribution of LWCF dollars annually.
FY16 State Assistance Program Funding Represents Highest Level of Support in Over a Decade
Thanks to your continued advocacy efforts, we’ve seen increased awareness among our decision-makers in Washington on the value of the State Assistance Program and the need and justification for a more equitable and dependable share of annual LWCF resources going to support close-to-home public outdoor recreation and conservation.
The dialogue has led to Congress considering a change in how overall LWCF dollars are allocated in the long-term (i.e. the actions of the Senate this past week) AND an over 100 percent increase in actual funding for the State Assistance Program in 2016. The $95 million in formula grants to the states which the National Park Service just announced this week represents:
- The highest level of support for State Assistance in over a decade.
- Approximately one-quarter of the overall funding for LWCF this year.
- More than double the total of $42 million from 2015.
While this amount signifies a major improvement over the previous 20-year-average of less than 15 percent of total LWCF spending, NRPA continues to call upon Congress to seek a permanent solution for fully funding the LWCF with the State Assistance Program receiving at least 40 percent of overall LWCF expenditures each year.
The measure approved by the Senate, even without full, dedicated annual funding or a higher guarantee for the State Assistance Program specifically, is a significant step towards that goal.
Now the Senate and House Energy Bills Have to Join to Create a Final Bill
The Senate and House must now negotiate a final energy bill from two very different measures in what is called a “Conference Committee” that includes members from both chambers. For instance, the House-approved energy bill (H.R. 8) does NOT include anything related to LWCF which will certainly be one of the more complicated issues to resolve when crafting a final bill. Once the Conference Committee has done its job, the final measure heads to both chambers for approval and, ultimately, the White House for the President’s signature.
Senate leadership has expressed their desire to have work completed and a final bill forwarded to the White House no later than when Congress is scheduled to break for the summer in late July. There is a real concern that if a final deal cannot be agreed to by then, there won’t be time to do so with this year’s crowded legislative calendar.
Further, while the Senate has voted repeatedly in a strong, bipartisan fashion in support of a permanent LWCF, the opinion of some in the House of Representatives is less clear. LWCF does enjoy significant bipartisan support in the House, but many members (mostly conservative) would like to see the program “reformed”. This includes providing an increased percentage of LWCF resources to the State Assistance Program
NRPA Continues Push for Permanent and Robust Support of the State Assistance Program
NRPA will continue to work for permanent and robust support for the State Assistance Program, as well as providing more LWCF resources to develop and refurbish parks and outdoor spaces in underserved urban communities. This includes the competitive grant initiative now referred to as the Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership (ORLP) program.
A reminder that this year’s ORLP grant program is open with the deadline for states to apply being May 20. To learn more about the application process, we encourage you to review our March 30 webinar.
NRPA will provide regular updates on the progress of long-term LWCF reauthorization. We encourage you to continue your excellent advocacy efforts from home by thanking your Senators for their efforts to make LWCF permanent and remind them of the critical role the State Assistance Program has played in providing quality outdoor recreation for all in your local communities.
Finally, we also encourage you to become a Park Champion and to host an event for your elected leaders sometime this summer. It’s easier than you think and you’re likely already planning a ribbon cutting or other public event that would be perfect for inviting elected officials. We’ve got a webinar coming up on Thursday, April 28 at 2 p.m. EDT with all the details.
David Tyahla is NRPA's Senior Government Affairs Manager