If you have been an NRPA member for any length of time, you likely know that NRPA and our partners in the conservation community have long been pushing for permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). The good news is that Congress passed legislation making that dream a reality. In February, Congress passed the John D. Dingell Conservation, Management and Recreation Act, which includes many provisions relating to conservation and national parks, and President Trump signed it into law.
The Dingell Act also sets aside 40 percent of overall LWCF funding for the state assistance program. Permanent reauthorization of the LWCF and the language regarding the funding of the state assistance program are big wins for NRPA members, as the percentage of funds going into the state assistance program had been decreasing over time. While the 40 percent is not binding (the Dingell Act did not provide mandatory funding for the program), we hope the authorizing language that spells out the percentage will hold Congress accountable to that agreement.
Although we celebrate these important wins, the reality is that our efforts to fortify LWCF are far from over. The fund receives about $900 million in revenue annually (from oil and gas leases), but $900 million does not go toward conservation efforts. Each year, Congress specifies how much of that $900 million can be spent on LWCF projects, and, each year, Congress has significantly shortchanged the program. If all the money available for LWCF since 1965 had been disbursed, slightly less than $40.9 billion would have been spent on conservation projects across the country. Instead, Congress has provided less than half of the funds — only $18.9 billion — and the remaining $22 billion has gone back into the federal treasury for non-conservation project spending.
When Congress passed the law in 1965, its intent was that money collected in the fund be used for conservation efforts. This, however, is no longer the case, and with a large backlog of projects at the local, state and federal level, the money deposited into the account needs to be used for its intended purpose. Now that the program is permanently reauthorized, we can shift our attention to ensuring that each year conservation efforts receive all the funds collected.
Senators Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) have introduced legislation that would ensure full, dedicated funding for LWCF. The Land and Water Conservation Fund Permanent Funding Act, S. 1081, would require that each year LWCF receive the money going into the fund, thereby preventing Congress from skimming off a portion of the money for other uses. This would mean that if the fund collects $900 million, that amount would be spent on conservation projects during that fiscal year. This bipartisan legislation currently has 48 cosponsors, nearly half the United States Senate.
In the House of Representatives, Reps. Jeff Van Drew (D-N.J.) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) have introduced identical legislation, H.R. 3195, that is similarly bipartisan and has 188 cosponsors. The House Committee on Natural Resources — chaired by Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), who supports the legislation — has already passed the legislation out of its committee. While we are unsure on timing, we expect the full House to consider the legislation during this Congress.
The Road Ahead
The fight over permanent funding won’t be quick and easy, but there are important steps your agency can take to help gain more support for the legislation. This fall is a great time to share with your members of Congress how important LWCF is to your agency and that you would like to see mandatory funding for the program. We make it simple! Just visit NRPA's Advocacy page and select “take action.” This is also a great time to invite your members of Congress to visit an LWCF site in your community to thank them for voting for permanent reauthorization, while encouraging them to support dedicated funding. The “Park Champion” link at our Advocacy page makes inviting them easy, but your NRPA Public Policy team is always here to help as well.
Kyle Simpson is NRPA's Senior Government Affairs Manager.