EDITORIAL: Bipartisan conservation fund succumbs to needless partisanship
U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah, the Republican chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, earned the moniker of obstructionist-in-chief when he single-handedly killed reauthorization on Oct. 1 of the bipartisan, half-century old Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).
In the nanosecond it took to block a bill with 195 bipartisan co-sponsors, America’s signature conservation and outdoor-recreation program fell away.
To add insult to impasse, Bishop recently introduced his own bill to dismember — inspired feature by inspired feature — the last vestiges of the LWCF. In his press materials, Bishop brags that his bill to “modernize” the expired LWCF provides “only minimal funds for federal land acquisition and significantly limits what can be acquired.” It also provides grants to encourage STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education of students in offshore oil and gas production, since lease royalties from ocean drilling had been the fund’s no-taxes revenue source.
Bishop’s bill, which receives a hearing Wednesday, does violence to the Republican legacy of conservation heavyweights from Teddy Roosevelt to former Washington Gov. Dan Evans.
Bishop’s push represents an in-your-face challenge to conservation-minded Republicans like U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert of Auburn, a vigorous supporter of outdoor recreation and the LWCF. It also will be a litmus test for freshman Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside, the only member of Washington’s congressional delegation to serve on the committee.
Newhouse is a shrewd moderate and early co-sponsor of a key Puget Sound recovery bill to align federal funding with state programs. On Bishop’s rollback bill, Newhouse should buck his chairman and side with the Reichert/Evans wing of his party.
Sadly, there never had been anything partisan about the LWCF — until now.
In late July, Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, joined forces with Washington Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell, the committee’s ranking member, to permanently reauthorize the fund.
After listening to Bishop’s extremist palaver on Wednesday, members should move for a hearing on the original LWCF reauthorization bill sponsored by the committee’s ranking member, Raúl M. Grijalva, D-Ariz. It easily would pass.
For now, Congress’ obstructionist-in-chief needs a dose of his own obstruction.
Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Brier Dudley, Mark Higgins, Jonathan Martin, Thanh Tan, Blanca Torres, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).