‘Totally inappropriate’ to axe land program: Evans
A Republican-controlled U.S. House appropriations subcommittee acted “inappropriately, totally inappropriately” this week when it voted to eliminate all money for the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), according to Washington’s former Republican governor and U.S. senator, Dan Evans.
The federal program has, in Evans’ words, been “a great partner” to this state’s Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition, which Evans co-founded with former Democratic Gov. Mike Lowry. It has acted to protect key wildlife habitat and made possible such projects as popular Double Bluff Beach Park on Whidbey Island.
Established under the Nixon administration, the Land and Water Conservation Fund is paid for by revenues from the federal government’s offshore oil leases.
It has funneled more than $500 million into Washington state during the past 40 years and has helped pay for projects in more than 95 percent of the nation’s counties.
The LWCF was established “for a specific purpose” in law by Congress, Evans argued. If offshore leasing money goes to other uses, Congress should change the law and not simply “zero out” the program.
“That’s not the way to go about things, just steal money where you can find it,” said Evans. The House appropriations subcommittee action was “extremely shortsighted,” he added.
In contrast to Congress’ lower chamber in Washington, D.C., the Washington state Legislature voted last month to include $65 million for Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition-supported projects. The money will go to 86 programs, ranging from parks and ballfields to protection of critical wildlife habitat.
Southwest Washington’s Republican U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler sits on the House Appropriations Committee. She is a member of its Interior, Environment and Related Agencies subcommittee — the panel that, earlier this week, zeroed out the LWCF and cut the budget for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service by 27 percent.
The congresswoman’s staff hastened to tell the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition on Wednesday that Herrera Beutler was absent from the panel’s budget markup but had asked that the LWCF be funded.
Herrera Beutler will have a further chance to undo the damage, should she so wish. The full House Appropriations Committee must still approve the bill. And Democrats in the House of Representatives, as they did in 2011, are sure to mount a vigorous defense of the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
The Obama administration proposed $600 million for the LWCF for the next fiscal year. A Senate budget, crafted by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., pegged its spending at $646 million.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund is no stranger to attack. Under President Reagan, controversial Interior Secretary James Watt tried to have it eliminated.
Longtime Washington Rep. Norm Dicks, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, helped save the LWCF. Watt called Dicks and threatened to campaign against him in the next election.