Editorial: Restore land, water conservation fund

The Land and Water Conservation Fund expired at the end of September when Congress failed to reauthorize the program.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund expired at the end of September when Congress failed to reauthorize the program.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund uses royalties from offshore oil and gas drilling operations to fund acquisition and development of parks and other public lands. Projects that had been identified in advance for next year would have filled in gaps along the Pacific Crest Trail and secured conservation easements for 165 acres of historic farmland at the Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve on Whidbey Island, and as well as conservation easements that would protect working forests near Mount St. Helens.

In the past, this hasn’t been a controversial program, and the fund has won reauthorization every time it came before Congress. Prior to the program’s expiration, U.S. Sens. Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, moved a bipartisan reauthorization bill through the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

But U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, has vowed not to allow the Senate bill to move out of his committee — he won’t even allow hearings on the legislation — and instead has offered his own bill for discussion that would fundamentally change the intent of the fund and put an end to much of its work in securing public lands for recreation and conservation and aiding efforts to preserve working forests and farms.

Bishop’s bill would only reauthorize the fund for seven years; and it would restrict funding for federal acquisitions, such as that for national parks and national recreation areas, to 3.5 percent of the fund, making it impossible that enough funding would be available for almost any project. Additionally, Bishop’s bill would restrict property acquisitions west of the 100th meridian, which roughly splits the country in half, to just 15 percent of what funding it would allow. Instead, Bishop’s bill seeks to divert money to promote offshore oil and gas exploration and streamline permits for oil companies.

Would Bishop suggest, rather than taking the family to a national park, vacationing at an offshore oil rig?

According to Rep. Derek Kilmer, the LWCF has invested nearly $600 million in more than 600 projects in Washington since it was first proposed by Sen. Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson some 50 years ago. It’s helped protect forestland in Kitsap County. And it’s done that with no cost to you.

“That’s because rather than invest taxpayer money from general funds, the LWCF has been funded through oil and gas lease revenues from companies that drill in the Outer Continental Shelf,” Kilmer wrote in a recent guest column. “Using offshore oil and gas revenues to improve public access to our nation’s most breathtaking landscapes is a win-win. What’s more, according to the Trust for Public Lands, every dollar spent through the LWCF generates $4 in economic value.”

Cantwell and Murkowski’s bill provides a fair and equal distribution between federal and state land projects. Leaders in the Senate and House should allow votes on that legislation.