At midnight, October 1, the light flickered out on one of the nation’s most popular and successful legislative programs. But the political battle over the future of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) is sure to rage on into the winter, as lawmakers debate how to divvy up the hundreds of millions of dollars it receives each year.
Despite the efforts of a bipartisan group of congressional supporters, the LWCF was allowed to expire on September 30. While this certainly could lead to long-term, negative impacts with regard to federal support for conservation and outdoor recreation, little or no impact will be felt by state, regional and local park agencies that hope to receive funding from the State Assistance Program.
The most immediate impact is the inability of the government to accrue new revenues from offshore energy exploration and production to fund the various programs currently supported through the Act. The unspent balance of existing revenues has been identified at $20 billion; therefore, there is ample revenue available to fully fund the LWCF for the next year, and about 20 more beyond that. This situation highlights the fact that the LWCF has only been “fully funded” at its authorized amount ($900 million) a couple of times during the 50-year life of the program — even while ample revenues, NOT individual taxpayer dollars, have been generated to fund it.
So, congressional appropriators (those who control the funding for each federal agency and program) remain able to approve funding for LWCF as part of their annual spending for the Department of the Interior and National Park Service. However, the program’s expiration means oil and gas companies have stopped paying into it. That has increased the stakes for the program’s long-term outlook and added pressure on its supporters in Congress.
Senate and House supporters are seeking opportunities to attach reauthorization as an amendment to legislation moving through Congress this fall.
Additional Action in Committee
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee recently included LWCF reauthorization as part of a comprehensive “Energy Reform” bill (S. 2012) it reported to the full Senate for consideration. The measure would permanently reauthorize the LWCF, but would not include any mandatory funding. It also allocates a minimum 40 percent of annual LWCF spending to what NRPA is calling a “Stateside Suite” of programs. This includes the State Assistance Program, but also funding for other worthwhile initiatives such as the Forest Legacy, Cooperative Endangered Species, and historical protection for American battlefields. While we welcome any effort to ensure that at least a portion of annual LWCF dollars go to support state and local active outdoor recreation through the State Assistance Program, we have shared our concerns with Committee Chair Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-WA) that without any mandatory funding for LWCF, State Assistance and these other valuable programs will receive no more funding than what is currently being appropriated annually. For State Assistance this is approximately $40-45 million to be distributed across all states and territories.
In the House, Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT-01) has stated, repeatedly, his desire to see LWCF reauthorized — prior to the end of 2015, if possible. He has called for significant changes to how LWCF operates with, first and foremost, more funding being sent directly to the states — specifically the State Assistance Program — as well as a desire to see LWCF used for education and possibly to help fund “Payments-in-Lieu-of-Taxes” (PILT). PILT is an issue critical to many western communities that face significant losses in annual tax revenue because the federal government owns so much of the territory within their borders.
Outlook and How You Can Help
NRPA remains optimistic that in the coming months we’ll see a permanently reauthorized LWCF, with full and dedicated funding that will allow for a more dependably, robustly and equitably supported State Assistance Program.
Your voice is needed — click here to learn how to contact Capitol Hill and urge support for the LWCF! Use the #RenewLWCF hashtag in your social media interactions to further drive home the essential nature of this legislation to the field of parks and recreation. Click here for detailed information about LWCF and NRPA’s position.
David Tyahla is NRPA’s Senior Government Affairs Manager.