Help save nation's treasures
The term "trust fund" seems to carry little weight with members of Congress on the hunt for ready cash. The Social Security Trust Fund is routinely raided to pay for unrelated programs. In most years, only a fraction of the money collected by the nation's ports for the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund is appropriated for its intended purpose. Congress has grown fond of holding that money in reserve to help mask the size of ballooning budget deficits.
Similarly, most of the royalty money from offshore oil and gas development accruing each year in the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) never is applied to the protection of our national parks, forests and local recreation areas, as intended. Year after year, around two-thirds of that money is diverted to other uses.
A House-approved bill now pending in the Senate would interrupt that practice for at least one fiscal year. House Resolution 3534 would provide full and dedicated funding for LWCF for only the third time in the fund's 45-year history.
The legislation's added contribution to the protection of the nation's valued natural assets would be significant - more than half a billion dollars - even if lawmakers reverted to their old ways after just a year. Congress has authorized $900 million annually for LWCF, but has been appropriating an average of $313 per year over the last decade. That's less than 5 percent of the revenue available from offshore oil and gas royalties.
The additional LWCF money this legislation would free up could be put to productive use developing and providing access to natural lands here in Washington and nationwide. The LWCF is the primary source of funding for land management activities. The funding has been essential to the development and maintenance of North Cascades National Park, the Skagit Wild and Scenic River and the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, as well as Southwest Washington recreational areas.
The outdoor recreational activities these funds facilitate — hunting, fishing, camping and the like — add considerably to the quality of life in our state. And those activities make a significant contribution to the economy, both in Washington and nationwide. According to the Outdoor Industry Foundation, outdoor recreation and tourism now contribute some $730 billion each year to the national economy, support around 6.5 million jobs and stimulate 8 percent of all consumer spending.
The U.S. Senate has the opportunity to increase support for our treasured land and water resources at no cost to the taxpayer and without adding a cent to the deficit. But senators will have to act quickly when they return next month for the post-election, lame duck session. HR 3534 must be approved before the end of the year.