Editorial: Congress must act before Land and Water Conservation Fund dries up
Now that Congress has returned from its August recess, members have just 11 legislative days to act before the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund expires.
Non-renewal would be a travesty — no other federal initiative benefits all Northwesterners equally without costing them a cent. But in the era of congressional gridlock, the unconscionable has become the new normal.
For half a century, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has been America’s signature conservation and outdoor-recreation program. Nearly 600 Washington projects have been funded over the years, from the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area and Mount Rainier National Park, to a neighborhood park in Spokane and the Tahuya working forest in the Hood Canal watershed.
The fund doesn’t burden taxpayers, which is part of its genius and bipartisan appeal: A small percentage of the lease royalties for offshore oil development are looped back into wildlife habitat, forests and parks.
Who better to underwrite repairs to the Pacific Coast Trail than Shell Oil and ExxonMobil?
In July, Alaska Republican U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, joined forces with Washington Democrat, U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, the committee’s ranking member, to permanently re-authorize the fund.
In the House, Washington Republican Rep. Dave Reichert, co-chair of the House National Park Caucus, is the re-authorization’s prime champion. Reichert points out that the bill includes set-asides for both public access and recreation.
Failure to renew and fund the program will put the brakes on dozens of approved proposals, including $4 million to benefit Willapa National Wildlife Refuge and $500,000 for the Point Defiance Loop Trail.
For lawmakers, the challenge is to hammer out the federal budget in a dozen days without letting programs such as the Land and Water Conservation Fund get lost in the noise.
One path forward is for Cantwell to attach language from the energy bill into a continuing resolution and for Reichert to pressure House Republican leadership to make the LWCF a priority.
It may be a heavy lift, but it needs to happen.