At midnight last night, the authorization for one of America’s most important and popular conservation programs expired. The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) has been used over the past 50 years to invest $16 billion into projects that benefit sportsmen, including the acquisition of public fishing areas, important wildlife habitat, and blocks of land now open for hunting and fishing. Thousands of sportsmen and women have worked tirelessly over the past several years to convince lawmakers to reauthorize the fund, and legislation enjoying strong bipartisan support has been proposed in both the House and Senate. LWCF authorization bills would likely pass through both chambers of Congress, if the bills could only get a vote.
But we’ve passed the September 30 deadline without action, and neither the House nor the Senate have given serious consideration to the pending legislation. While the continued dysfunction of Congress is more than disappointing, we should not view this passing deadline as ‘game over’ for this critical conservation funding program. Though new funds have stopped rolling into the account, the LWCF hasn’t been eliminated, and there is still time to reauthorize the fund in a way that doesn’t affect the way it works.
If that sounds confusing, let me explain: The original authorization for the Land and Water Conservation Fund linked the program to a trust account that grew by $900 million annually from funds generated primarily through oil and gas drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf. This system creates a balance—we reinvest in the environment using funds from an activity that does environmental damage.
But, despite $900 million being allocated towards the trust fund each year, the fund is considered discretionary spending, and LWCF dollars must be appropriated annually by Congress, which has only fully funded the program twice. As a result, dollars that previously went unappropriated have remained in the trust. These remaining unused dollars can still be used to fund LWCF projects until the trust funds are exhausted.
So, we do have a cushion to keep the fund working on great public access projects while we convince Congress to pass a clean reauthorization—and we think that’s likely to happen. But with the fund disconnected from its source of funding, we are living on borrowed time before the money runs out and the long-term future of a great habitat and access program is in jeopardy.
An opportunity to reauthorize the program could come with a bipartisan budget deal. Today, on the very first day of a new fiscal year that runs through September 30, 2016, the federal government is only being funded through a short term continuing resolution, passed just yesterday. A new budget will need to be passed for the remainder of the 2016 fiscal year by December 11, and we’re calling on all members of Congress to roll up their sleeves and work out a bipartisan budget deal that doesn’t shortchange conservation. Reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund should be a part of that deal.
If you like what the TRCP is doing to uphold your hunting and fishing traditions through conservation and access, please consider making a donation. We will use it in our fight to ensure that the Land and Water Conservation Fund is reauthorized and successful for another 50 years.
2 Responses to “Authorization for the Land and Water Conservation Fund Has Expired. What now?”
I disagree with that read on the unspent/redirected dollars sitting in a trust fund that we can get access to. That money has now been spent elsewhere. There is a paper IOU, but that doesn’t mean there is actual money available to us. (If there were, why wouldn’t we simply end every annual campaign by asking for the difference between what LWCF received and $900M? The reason we don’t is because that money is gone, spent on other things.) Sure, Congress can appropriate whatever funding level they want into the account, but that number has been falling even with non-tax (oil royalties) money, so losing the tie to the OCS drilling revenue stream is the real story here. Today, day 1 post-expiration $2.5M that should have gone into our account, to be available to appropriators went elsewhere. Tomorrow, same thing, same amount. The time to fix this is now.
Jay, you are absolutely right, $2.5 million is being lost each day and the fund needs to be reauthorized ASAP. The lost opportunities should be a major focal point. In terms of funds remaining in the trust, our interpretation of the law comes from the Congressional Research Service and can be viewed here: https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RL33531.pdf.
Who is the Congressional Research Service?
“The Congressional Research Service (CRS) works exclusively for the United States Congress, providing policy and legal analysis to committees and Members of both the House and Senate, regardless of party affiliation. As a legislative branch agency within the Library of Congress, CRS has been a valued and respected resource on Capitol Hill for more than a century.”