Editorial: Conservation fund must be top priority in September
The expiration date for a 50-year-old conservation funding source is fast approaching, and without congressional help, it will end up in a legislative wasteland.
Once there, it could be lost forever, which would be a shame because this is one government program that has worked really well.
The U.S. Land and Water Conservation Fund has been successful since it was launched in 1964, but it is set to expire at the end of September. Congress reconvenes Sept. 8, so there is little time for political quibbling.
Congress needs to re-authorize the program, with or without reforms, as quickly as possible.
If Congress does nothing— which it tends to do — the program simply goes away.
And that would be a huge loss to conservation efforts throughout the country.
This is a tax-free funding mechanism that since its inception has paid for $17 billion in land preservation nationwide, and about $600 million in conservation grants for Washington.
In the Tri-Cities, the fund has helped pay for the 23-mile Sacagawea Heritage Trail along the Columbia River, Highland Park in Pasco, Vista Park in Kennewick and Burlington Park in Connell.
It also has helped preserve places like the Columbia River Gorge, Lake Chelan and the Olympic National Park. If the fund is re-authorized, $840,000 is set to be spent on stream restoration in the Umatilla National Forest.
And all this comes from money paid by energy companies, natural gas leases and off-shore drilling royalties, which makes sense. If private companies are going to ruin the country’s natural resources to make a profit, they should then be required to re-invest their money to help preserve those same resources.
This is an effective way to make sure there is a stable funding source for public lands, and since it does not rely on taxes, it’s even more appealing.
Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, have tried to rescue this vital program by including it in a Senate bipartisan energy bill that has made it out of committee and is awaiting action by the full Senate.
The House, however, has so far shown resistance to re-authorization. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, is chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources and is opposed to how the fund operates.
Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., also wants to see some reforms to the legislation before it is re-authorized. His office staff said he supports the goals of the land and conservation fund, but believes there are improvements to be made.
Negotiations and tweaks to the legislation are fine, but legislators need to get cracking if they are going to ensure the conservation fund continues.
At least there is some start in the Senate. The House needs to do more than nit-pick. Time is wasting.