There have been more developments with the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Although it began in 1965 the Fund was not permanently authorized. Its authorization had to be periodically renewed. It most recent lapsed in September, 2018, due to the partial government shutdown and other disputes.
Congressional action last spring authorized the fund permanently; t will no longer have to be renewed from time to time.
Permanent authorization of the Fund by Congress is a big step but it is not the final step. Current law does not require that the money that is available for the fund actually goes into the Fund. Congress still must make appropriations to the Fund. Now there is legislation pending in Congress to take this final step.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) was created by Congress in 1965. It represented a bipartisan commitment to safeguard natural areas, water resources and our cultural heritage, and to provide recreation opportunities to all Americans. National parks like Rocky Mountain, the Grand Canyon, and the Great Smoky Mountains, as well as national wildlife refuges, national forests, rivers and lakes, community parks, trails, and ball fields in every one of our 50 states were set aside for Americans to enjoy thanks to federal funds from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).
The Land and Water Conservation Fund uses revenue from offshore oil and gas. Every year, $900 million in royalties paid by energy companies drilling for oil and gas on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) is available to go into this fund. The money is intended to create and protect national parks, areas around rivers and lakes, national forests, and national wildlife refuges from development, and to provide matching grants for state and local parks and recreation projects.
While these royalties are available every year to go to the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the process is not automatic. Congress still has to appropriate it.
Around the country, the Land and Water Conservation Fund program has permanently protected nearly five million acres of public lands including some of America’s most treasured assets such as Grand Canyon National Park, the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, the White Mountain National Forest, and Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge, the nation’s first federal refuge.
In West Virginia, the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) has provided funding to help protect West Virginia’s most special places and ensure recreational access for hunting, fishing and other outdoor activities. Public lands such as the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge, Harpers Ferry National Historic Park, Monongahela National Forest, Chief Logan State Park, and New River Gorge National River have all benefited. Forest Legacy Program grants, funded under LWCF, help protect working forestlands while enhancing wildlife habitat, water quality and recreation at places such as the Potomac River Hills in Morgan County. Since 1965, more than $243 million dollars in LWCF funds have been spent in West Virginia on more than 500 projects, both on state and federal lands. This includes improvements to local parks and public spaces in 54 of our state’s 55 counties.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund state assistance program provides matching grants to help states and local communities protect parks and recreation resources. Running the gamut from wilderness to trails and neighborhood playgrounds, LWCF funding has benefited nearly every county in America, supporting over 41,000 projects. This 50:50 matching program is the primary federal investment tool to ensure that families have easy access to parks and open space, hiking and riding trails, and neighborhood recreation facilities.
What’s going on now
Senator Joe Manchin (D, WV) has introduced a bill in the Senate which would require that the money which is available to the Fund be appropriated automatically to the Fund and used for Fund purposes.
In the past, money collected as royalties from oil and gas drilling would be available for use by the Fund. It would, however, still have to be specifically appropriated to the Land and Water Conservation Fund. In the past, this has meant that some of the money from the oil and gas royalties would not go the Fund for its purposes but would be diverted to something else.
The bill changes that. It allows the royalties money to go into the Land and Water Conservation Fund and be spent for its purposes without any further Congressional action.
The bill (S 1081) currently has 48 co-sponsors, including 40 Democrats, six Republicans, two Independents, and six candidates for President of the United States. The co-sponsors do not include Senator Capito (R, WV).
An identical bill (HR 3195) has been introduced in the United States House of Representatives. It has 183 co-sponsors, including 168 Democrats, 15 Republicans, and two candidates for President of the United States. Of the West Virginia delegation, Rep. Alex Mooney is a co-sponsor.
The West Virginia Highlands Conservancy has done its part to push toward the goal of a permanently authorized, automatically funded Land and Water Conservation Fund. We have joined in a letter urging Congress to pass the pending legislation.