It has been a busy week on Capitol Hill, with important action being taken involving two of NRPA’s most important policy priorities – the reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and continued federal funding for active transportation options, including biking and walking.
Here is a comprehensive breakdown of all the action.
On November 5, House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop released his draft LWCF bill and summary.
With regard to State Assistance and Urban Parks, the draft is as good as we’ve been told to expect by Congressional staff. The final language for the urban piece (Community Improvement through Innovation, Engagement and Support program or “CITIES”), reflects comments and input from NRPA as does the State Assistance portion.
In short, under Chairman Bishop’s plan, at least 50 percent of annual LWCF dollars would go to State Assistance (45 percent) and the new urban competitive grant initiative “CITIES” (5 percent). This is great!
However, the proposal would also utilize 35 percent of overall LWCF dollars for a new Worker Training program focused on the energy industry, as well as PILT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes). It severely limits funding for federal land acquisition along with other existing LWCF programs (Forest Legacy, Endangered Species, Battlefields) and includes the previously identified "non-related" programs under the existing $900 million authorized umbrella for LWCF. The bill would reauthorize LWCF for seven years and does NOT include any mandatory funding. So, each program would continue to be subject to the whims of the annual appropriations process in Congress.
To be clear, NRPA is very pleased with the treatment of state assistance and urban community parks in Chairman Bishop's draft bill and that he recognizes that additional resources should be going to support conservation and recreation in and near the communities where 80 percent of Americans now reside.
However, we are deeply concerned to see additional programs included, which are not consistent with the stated purposes of the original act -- conservation and recreation. Our concern isn't with the objectives – we understand the importance of PILT, in particular – but they shouldn't be taking up a full third of the limited funding which is annually available to the LWCF to address them.
Breakdown of the Bishop Proposal:
- Maintain the $900 million funding ceiling and reauthorize program for seven years (September 2022); NO mandatory funding; still subject to appropriations.
- Not less than 45 percent of LWCF money to State Assistance, of which 30 percent must go to areas of at least 20,000.
- Not less than 5 percent for new urban competitive grant program (CITIES).
- At least 20 percent support development of offshore energy, including providing higher education grants to prepare the next generation of energy workers.
- At least 15 percent would go to PILT.
- Maximum of 3.5 percent to fund deferred maintenance projects at federal lands agencies.
- Maximum of 3.5 percent to fund federal land acquisition and limit purchases to inholdings. Further, includes a limit of 15 percent of the annual acreage purchased be located in the West, and at least one-third of this funding would need to improve access for sportsmen.
- Max of 3.5 percent to Forest Legacy.
- Max of 3.5 percent to Co-Operative Endangered Species grants.
Active Transportation Update
There is good news for active transportation. The House approved a six-year, $325 billion transportation bill by an overwhelming vote of 363 to 64. We're pleased to report that the three proposed amendments which targeted Transportation Alternatives (TAP) and the Recreational Trails Program were either withdrawn or not made in order for floor consideration. This is due in large part to the rapid grassroots response for action by NRPA members and our partners. We thank you very much for your help!
So, while this may feel somewhat anticlimactic, this is a great outcome and keeps our position strong for the upcoming conference with the Senate.
The Surface Transportation Reauthorization now moves to conference committee with the Senate to work out the differences. All things being equal, we'd prefer to see the Senate language over the House, but most important, want to see TAP preserved in any final agreement. Theoretically they are supposed to finish by November 20, which is the next expiration date of the existing law. Many believe that might be a little too ambitious and odds are they could simply extend the law yet again and complete negotiations in December (which seems more likely).
In realizing that both the Senate and House measures are six years in length but only include full funding for the first three, the debate over how to keep the Highway Trust Fund solvent will likely continue. Neither Party's leadership, nor the White House, seems to have any stomach for considering an increase in the federal gas tax.
Dave Tyahla is NRPA's Senior Government Affairs Manager.