EDITORIAL: It’s time for Congress to stop raiding conservation fund
There are millions of dollars at stake slated for land conservation projects in Thurston County, and many parts of Southwest Washington, during the final days of negotiations over the Transportation Authorization bill in Congress.
That’s because the Senate version of the bill includes a provision to strengthen the Land and Water Conservation Fund created in 1965.
The LWCF was a simple and elegant idea: When oil and gas is extracted from American land, it belongs to all citizens, so a small portion of those revenues should be reinvested in something of lasting value to everyone, open space.
As we deplete one natural resource, we replenish another, without using a single taxpayer dollar.
The LWCF collects some $900 million annually from the offshore oil and gas drilling royalties and those funds have not only added five million acres to national parks, wildlife refuges and national forests, but have also provided essential public recreation and conservation grants to communities across the country.
Thurston County would receive $2.9 million in 2013 for 36 projects proposed in the bill, including $958,000 for Capitol Lake rehabilitation, $176,500 for a project at the Mima Mounds, $159,000 for the Eld Inlet County Park, $148,222 for Wonderwood Park and many others, including the Deschutes Historial Park, Percival Landing and Tenino parks.
Unfortunately, Congress has raided this fund every year, diverting the money into deficit reduction, leaving only a small portion for parks and land conservation. In 2007, the LWCF received only $155 million.
This year, Sens. Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico and Max Baucus of Montana authored a bill that would guarantee the LWCF fund receives the full $900 million every year, starting next year, with provisions that protect the fund from future raiding.
Rep. Jaime Herrera-Beutler should join other House representatives in supporting the bill, especially because it includes more than $50 million for projects in the 3rd Congressional District. Herrera-Beutler is sitting on the House-Senate committee hammering out an agreement on the Transportation Authorization bill by its deadline on Saturday.
The success and broad community support of the Capital Land Trust and the Nisqually Land Trust in our region, shows that Americans want to conserve open space.
Capitol Land Trust Executive Director Eric Erler said the LWCF program “is very consistent with Capitol Land Trust’s collaborative approach, not requiring tax dollars and accomplishing beneficial conservation on a massive scale across the country.”
Open space from Maine to California and Hawaii to right here in the Sound Sound needs to be protected for future generations, but could be lost forever if LWCF loses funding to purchase key properties and conservation easements.
Families all over America are planning their summer vacations to places like Yellowstone National Park and the Florida Everglades. Outdoor tourism and public lands drive $646 billion in direct consumer spending and sustains 6.1 million American jobs, according to supporters of the LWCF.
The economic engine alone should be basis enough for passage of this bill.
Congress has been shortchanging the LWCF for too long. The original lawmakers in Washington, D.C., thought they had created a fail-safe source of funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
It’s time to stop robbing our grandchildren and great-grandchildren of enhanced access to public lands for hunting, fishing, wildlife viewing and other outdoor recreational activities.
It’s time to make sure that this small piece of oil and gas drilling royalties continues to fund land and water conservation.