Editorial: Conserve Land, Water
Considering that members of Congress will be well-rested following their August recess, they should have no problem tackling a pressing issue when they return to work: renewal of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. In the process, Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas, should take a lead position in supporting a fund that reflects the interests of her constituents.
For 50 years, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has played a crucial role in enhancing national parks, forests, and wildlife habitats. It also has provided funding for local projects such as ball fields and urban recreation areas — anything that preserves open spaces and improves access to the outdoors. As Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., has said: "The Land and Water Conservation Fund is the country's most successful conservation law, supporting an outdoor economy of more than $600 billion annually and 6 million American jobs. The LWCF is essential to preserving America's public outdoor spaces, which improve our quality of life and provide important recreational and cultural opportunities."
Perhaps most important for conservative lawmakers, the fund is supported not with tax dollars but with a portion of the fees charged to companies that drill for oil and gas on the continent's outer shelf. As Wilderness.org explains, "The Land and Water Conservation Fund is based on a simple idea: When you deplete the earth's finite natural resources, some of the proceeds should pay to strengthen conservation."
That sounds logical — and it meshes with the ethos of the environmentally conscientious Northwest. Yet the fund is facing a challenge in Congress, which must renew the program by Sept. 30. Because of that, we urge Herrera Beutler to be at the forefront of efforts to extend the fund.
Herrera Beutler has a mixed record regarding the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which she voted to eliminate in 2011. Press secretary Amy Pennington explained in an email to The Columbian: "That vote you're referring to came shortly after she was first elected in 2011, and one of the first Southwest Washington projects she learned was being targeted for LWCF funds was the breaching of the Willapa dikes. As you recall, she was working fervently on the behalf of her many constituents who didn't want that to happen." Pennington also said: "As a member of the Appropriations Committee, Jaime has worked to ensure the Land and Water Conservation Fund receives funding."
And yet, Herrera Beutler has a lifetime voting record of 10 percent from the League of Conservation Voters — something that should be anathema for a representative from Washington.
In the contentious climate that permeates Washington, D.C., these days, winning renewal for seemingly mundane government programs can be an uphill battle. Even when they are successful. Even when they help preserve a lush landscape for future generations. Even when they come at no cost for taxpayers. Because of that, it is essential for well-reasoned voices to speak out in defense of logic, rather than being lost in the din of demagoguery.
When it comes to the environment, lawmakers from the Northwest have an obligation to play a lead role and to further the region's reputation as the standard bearer on such issues. Legislation that created the Land and Water Conservation Fund, after all, was written by legendary Washington lawmaker Henry "Scoop" Jackson. Herrera Beutler and her fellow Washington representatives must make it their duty to preserve that legacy.