Conservation projects need Congressional action
"Lame duck" seems like a self-fulfilling label. With just two weeks left, this (sudden death? two-minute warning?) Congress should defy conventional wisdom and stick its bill out.
Thirty years ago, a lame-duck Congress passed the Alaska National Interest Lands and Conservation Act (ANILCA) the signal law that overnight doubled the size of the National Park System. ANILCA was the coda to an eye-smarting process that traces back to Alaska statehood in 1959.
In 1980 Democrats acted more emboldened than paralyzed by the end-of-session blues. The cudgel was a just-elected President Reagan, veto pen in hand. Deadlines sharpen the mind. Mostly.
The final days of our sudden-death Congress will revolve around tax cuts, online gambling and enough picayune dreck to make a fifth grader lose faith. One low-hanging bill with a bipartisan history, S2747, might stanch some of that cynicism. S2747 is the Senate counterpart to a House bill that passed last August to provide full and dedicated funding to the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). The
Fund, established in 1965 as a bipartisan solution to benefit states and local communities with conservation and outdoor-recreation needs, is paid for using a portion of the receipts from offshore gas and oil leases (Read: BP and Exxon-Mobil help underwrite projects in places like the Yakima River Canyon and Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest).
Over the past 40 years, LWCF projects have added up to more than a half-a-billion dollars for Washington state and goosed an outdoor recreation industry that annually adds $11.7 billion to the regional economy, according to the LWCF Coalition.
Let-no-fund-go-undiverted budgeting means that the LWCF's authorized annual level of $900 million has only been met a couple of times since 1965. S2747, sponsored by New Mexico's Sen. Jeff Bingaman and co-sponsored by Sen. Maria Cantwell, will ensure the LWCF's integrity and end the disconnect between mission and means. It has the power to appeal to Republican budget hawks and to conservation Democrats and, most critical of all, to a majority of Americans (77 percent, again according to the LWCF Coalition).
A lesson from 1980 is that history hates hangdogs. Passing S2747 should be easy, with one webbed foot in front of the other.
Pete Jackson, a former gubernatorial speechwriter, lives in Seattle. You can reach him in care firstname.lastname@example.org.