The United States Senate has permanently authorized the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Both Senator Capito and Senator Manchin supported the Fund. The Fund collects revenue from offshore drilling and uses it to fund major national parks and wildlife preserves, as well as local baseball diamonds and basketball courts. For more background on the Fund, see the box on page 3.
The Fund began in 1965 but 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.
Congress is now set to reauthorize the fund in perpetuity. It will no longer have to be renewed from time to time. The Senate bill must still be approved by the House of Representatives. It has wide support there and is expected to pass.
Although the Fund will be authorized and can continue to exist, the legislation does not make spending on the Fund mandatory. Congress still must make appropriations to the Fund.
Congressional funding for the program has “fluctuated widely” since its inception in 1965, according to a 2018 Congressional Research Service report. Less than half of the $40 billion that has piled up in the fund during its five decades of existence has been spent by Congress on conservation efforts.
Although many members of Congress (including Senator Joe Manchin) support mandatory funding, that was not included in the bill and would have to be included in other legislation.
Reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund was not the only thing the bill accomplished. The 662 page bill also protecting millions of acres of land and hundreds of miles of wild rivers across the country and establishing four new national monuments honoring heroes including Civil War soldiers and civil rights icon Medgar Evers.
More specifically, it
- Adds over 367 miles of rivers to the National Wild & Scenic Rivers System
- Adds over 2,600 miles of new trails to the National Trails System
- Designates 694,000 acres of new recreation and conservation areas
- Provides over 42,000 acres of new additions to the national park system
- Creates four new national monuments
- Provides direction to all federal departments and agencies to facilitate the expansion and enhancement of hunting, fishing and recreational shooting opportunities on federal lands.