Punchbowl Falls in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.
One of the most successful conservation programs in modern history—the Land and Water Conservation Fund—died Thursday when the Republican House refused to extend it
, giving the Koch brothers a win.
Despite broad bipartisan support, and despite a deadline that was no surprise to anyone, Congress failed to take action to reauthorize it. That means that offshore oil and gas producers will no longer be paying into the chest that funds the program—and now that the funding connection has been broken, reinstating it will be very difficult, especially given the tone of this Congress. Instead, lawmakers will be dickering over how to divvy up former LWCF appropriations, which will now be going into the general treasury.
Earlier this summer, dozens of representatives on both sides of the aisle had signed a letter in support of the perpetually underfunded program, which has conserved more than seven million acres so far. LWCF purchases wildlife habitat, buys private inholdings within wildernesses and national parks, preserves cultural heritage sites, provides public access for fishing and hunting, and pays for urban parks, playgrounds and ballfields. (The Center for Western Priorities created an interactive map showing how LWCF has made national parks whole by paying to buy inholdings from private landowners.) And if put to a straight-up vote, reauthorization would pass both the House and Senate with bipartisan majorities.
But action on LWCF was derailed by far-right opposition, led by Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, House Natural Resources chairman, reflecting the anti-public-land and anti-federal sentiments afoot in some quarters of the West. Bishop is floating his own reforms to the program, which include redirecting most of the money to state and local projects (in the 1970s, Congress removed a requirement that states get 60 percent of LWCF funding).
Here's just some of what this program
has accomplished since being created in 1964—all without any taxpayer money. It "pumped almost $17 billion into federal, state, and local parks. It has protected more than 500 million acres of land, ranging from neighborhood playgrounds to dramatic basalt cliffs in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. The program also paid for almost two-thirds of the Appalachian Trail." It funded nearly 90 percent of the Flight 93 National Memorial in Stoystown, Pennsylvania. Again, without any taxpayer funding being spent. The fund is payed for by revenues paid by oil and gas companies drilling offshore in waters owned by the American people.
Bishop calls those who fought to preserve the LWCF (including Republicans Sen. Steve Daines and Rep. Ryan Zink of Montana) "special interests that seek to hijack LWCF to continue to expand the federal estate and divert even more monies away from localities." Make no mistake, this is part of furthering the Koch agenda to end the creation of new national parks and to undermine public ownership of any land that might, just might, have extractable resources under it.
Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell offered this statement.
After 50 years of resounding success in enriching America's great outdoors, the Land and Water Conservation Fund needlessly faces an uncertain future. I am extremely disappointed that, despite overwhelming bipartisan support, Congress has allowed this innovative and effective program to expire. As a result, America's national parks are now at a higher risk of private development within their borders, we will have fewer tools to protect access to hunting and fishing spots, and local parks and open space projects in all 50 states may face delays or cancellation in the year ahead.