A push by a group of senators to divert more offshore oil and gas royalties to coastal states presents a new challenge — but potentially a fresh opportunity — for defenders of the beleaguered Land and Water Conservation Fund.
The fund, which provides resources for acquiring public lands for recreation, also relies on offshore drilling revenue. Though authorized at $900 million annually, the fund is subject to the whims of appropriators and the amount actually provided is typically far less — $322 million in fiscal 2012, for example.
With the fund’s authorization set to expire at the end of fiscal 2015, its mission is twofold: secure a permanent source of mandatory funding while countering arguments that the money is used for federal land grabs.
Alan Rowsome, who works on lands policy at The Wilderness Society, said the fund has helped protect nearly every national park and refuge, not to mention many local parks and recreational spaces.
“It’s a very successful 50-year program that has borne out in every congressional district — in just about every town, city, park, refuge,” he said.
In addition to providing money for federal land acquisition, the fund offers matching grants to assist states in recreational planning. Still, many Western lawmakers have been wary about any federal programs that make land in their states off limits to economic development.
And now supporters of the fund also must contend with the effort by coastal-state senators to claim a bigger share of oil and gas revenue. Sens. Mary L. Landrieu, D-La., and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, have developed a proposal to send more of the royalties from offshore oil, gas and renewable-energy production to coastal states, which could qualify for additional funding by establishing clean-energy or conservation funds. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is expected to hold a hearing on the bill (S 630) later this month.
Efforts to overhaul the sharing of federal offshore drilling revenue could provide an avenue for Land and Water Conservation Fund supporters to strike a deal that would maintain ties to outer continental shelf receipts while ensuring more consistent funding.
The revenue-sharing proposals aren’t the only ideas floating around Washington that would build on the fund’s basic policy precept of using financial benefits of offshore resource extraction to invest in conservation on land. In his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama called on Congress to establish a trust fund for alternative-vehicle fuel research seeded by offshore drilling receipts. And that’s all in addition to a White House budget proposal to gradually make funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund mandatory.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.