EDITORIAL: A bill for parks and much more
The odds that Congress will reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund before it is scheduled to expire Sept. 30 improved with its inclusion in a 357-page bipartisan Senate bill that covers a multitude of programs that address the nation's energy and natural resources.
We earlier urged permanent reauthorization of the conservation fund. Since its introduction by Sen. Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson 50 years ago, the program has provided funds that have safeguarded natural areas and water resources, protected cultural heritage sites and provided recreation opportunities in all 50 states. Revenue for the program comes from royalties paid by oil companies for off-shore drilling leases. The program has brought more than $637 million in Washington state to purchase property and easements for federal parks and other lands, and matching grants for state and local parks. Next year, if approved, one of the projects to be funded in the state will secure conservation easements for 165 acres of farmland that is part of the Ebey's Landing National Historic Reserve on Whidbey Island. The legislation also would make official the program's typical structure of equal shares for national projects and grants for state and local projects
The fund's reauthorization is part of the Energy Policy Modernization Act, sponsored by Sen. Lisa Mukrowski, R-Alaska, chairwoman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and ranking member Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Washington. Murkowski's sponsorship is notable because she hasn't always been a supporter of the conservation fund.
Beyond the fund's reauthorization, Murkowski and Cantwell's bill would roll together 114 bills that already have been the subject of committee hearings, including legislation that would:
- Reauthorize weatherization and energy efficiency rebates and other programs for residences, buildings and manufacturing facilities.
- Modernize the nation's electrical grid, enhance the grid's cybersecurity protections, maintain the nation's Strategic Petroleum Reserve and continue research, such as is now being developed for the Snohomish County Public Utility District, on large-scale energy storage batteries, allowing for more efficient use of renewable energy sources, such as wind.
- Continue work to encourage development of hydropower, geothermal, biomass and other renewable energy sources.
- Make two other provisions that would add to the success of the conservation fund. The bill would also reauthorize the Historic Preservation Fund, which would allocate about $150 million annually for projects across the country. The bill also would create the National Park Maintenance and Revitalization Fund, again allocating $150 million annually for a backlog of maintenance projects in our national parks, a backlog that some critics have used against the conservation fund. Like the conservation fund, oil drilling royalties would fund both, instead of taxpayers.
A maintenance fund for our national parks would help limit that false choice between securing land for recreation and conservation and maintaining our parks and other public lands.
Amendments likely to be considered this week could undo some of the good described above, but the overall bill, with its bipartisan origins, deserves passage in the Senate and the House.