For over 50 years, the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) has served as a pillar of the Federal government’s commitment to conservation and environmental protection efforts. Since its inception, the fund has allocated over $8.2 billion dollars to 40,000 state and local projects geared towards protecting natural areas and spanning all 50 states. New York alone has received $320 million dollars in funding for over 1200 projects including Robert Moses State Park and Jones Beach on Long Island, the Red Hook Pool in Brooklyn, the Roberto Clemente State Park in the Bronx, the Sterling Forest in the Hudson Valley; Whiteface Mountain in the Adirondacks, and the Erie Canal Trail spanning from Albany to Buffalo.
While the impact of the LWCF in and of itself is quite remarkable, another perk to those more fiscally concerned is that not a cent of the funding comes from taxpayers. Its funding is instead drawn from the earnings of offshore oil and gas leasings, with the idea that the depletion of a resource in one place can be offset with the protection of natural resources in another.
With all of that in mind, however, Congress inexplicably allowed the Fund to expire in the Fall of 2018 following the conclusion of a temporary authorization period. In the aftermath of that decision bloomed a national movement, which included NYLCV, to resurrect the fund and ensure its permanent authorization to avoid a similar situation in the future.
Following countless hours of campaigning and awareness-raising, the movement culminated in a nearly 700-page public lands bill (S. 47) introduced to Congress on January 8, 2019 by Senators Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska and Maria Cantwell, D-Washington. It received overwhelming bipartisan support passing in the Senate by a vote of 92-8 and in the House by a vote of 363-92, including votes in favor by the entire New York congressional delegation.
While we should surely celebrate this landmark victory for the conservation movement, much more work and action still needs to be carried out. With the continuation of the program now guaranteed, we now need to draw our attention towards ensuring that the Fund receives its full appropriation every year. Although the original LWCF Act authorizes the Land and Water Conservation Fund at an annual level of $900 million, Congress usually appropriates only a portion of this amount with only 1 instance of full funding in the 50+ year history of the Fund. All in all, over $22 billion dollars of allotted LWCF funding has been siphoned from the Fund and away from conservationist initiatives over the course of those same 50 years.
To address this shortcoming and guarantee the full funding, a group of bi-partisan Congressional representatives have introduced legislation (HR 3195 by Rep. Jeff Van Drew (D-N.J.), Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) & S. 1081 by Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.V.)) guaranteeing the full $900 million appropriation to the Fund every year. The legislation advanced through a key vote in the House Natural Resources Water, Oceans, and Wildlife Subcommittee late last month and awaits action by the full committee.
NYLCV and its allies across the country will continue to advocate for this vital and much-needed legislation.