House GOP out of touch about support for conservation fund
Congress showed tremendous foresight 46 years ago when they created the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund.
In a bid to balance the benefits of offshore oil drilling with the environmental risks it poses, Congress required that some of the revenue generated from federal offshore oil and gas leases be used for conservation purposes.
Over the ensuing years, this vital source of conservation funding has been used to support and expand national, state and community parks and wildlife refuges in every state and 98 percent of the counties across the land. More than 41,000 local and state park projects benefitted from the fund.
It’s been used to protect forests and rivers from encroaching development and pollution. It’s provided a funding source for key wildlife habitat that in turn supports hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation for all – not just today, but for generations to come.
In Washington state alone, the fund has provided approximately $525 million to protect fish and wildlife habitat, enhance national parks and wildlife refuges and keep lands accessible for hikers, anglers and hunters.
The fund has rarely been supported to its full budget cap of $900 million per year. Take fiscal year 2010 for instance. Oil and gas leasing revenues in the year of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill catastrophe – the largest marine oil spill in history – were about $5.25 billion. The Land and Water Conservation Fund received $306 million.
To his credit, President Barack Obama’s 2012 budget requested the full funding of $900 million, illustrating once again the importance of a dedicated revenue source to protect the nation’s wild and scenic places, not to mention ranchers and timberland owners who, through conservation easements, are afforded another tool to keep working farms and forests out of the hands of developers.
In a strong conservation statement, Obama said “no” to continued raiding of the fund to pay for other federal programs.
But it comes as no surprise that the Republican-controlled House took a hefty swipe at the fund, recommending that it be pared back 93 percent to a paltry $61 million, which would represent the lowest funding level of the program’s history.
This is clearly a case where the House majority is out of synch with the American voters.
Last month, two research firms hired by the Land and Water Conservation Fund Coalition conducted a telephone poll of 800 likely voters, asking them to weigh in with their thoughts about the fund. One of the pollsters works typically for Republicans and the other has Democratic leanings. They were selected jointly to create a more bipartisan view of the program. Here’s what they learned:
• A full 85 percent of the respondents said they support full funding of the program.
• Similarly, 88 percent of those polled voiced support for continuing to deposit fees from the oil and gas leasing revenues into the fund, That compares with 81 percent in 2009.
In other words, support for the programs is as strong or stronger than ever, despite the difficult economic conditions the nation faces. It helps that the fund doesn’t rely on taxpayer dollars to survive.
Requiring oil companies to share some of their profits to help keep America green obviously resonates with the public. The Deepwater Horizon disaster probably reinforced that view.
Voters from all over the electorate said “yes” to continued LWCF funding, including 93 percent of the Democrats, 87 percent of the independents and 83 percent of the Republicans.
Various ethnic groups shared that position, including 95 percent of Latinos, 88 percent of whites and 85 percent of African Americans.
The support also held consistent across different regions – blue states and red states alike.
The House Republicans are out of touch with the voters on this one. Like a car navigator, they need to recalculate and set a new course.