LWCF Reauthorization Could Move Forward In Lame Duck Session
A bipartisan coalition backing reauthorization and funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) said Thursday that efforts to bring the program back in line after lapsing in September could happen during the lame-duck session.
“We’re trying every angle,” said U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) at a Capitol Hill press conference.
Gardner expressed frustration at the potential impasse facing LWCF reauthorization and funding.
“We’ve got to make progress on this. It amazes me; sometimes Washington, D.C., is the only place in the world where the more people agree on something, the less likely it is to happen,” Gardner told reporters. “And that’s what pisses people off about Washington.”
The Senate version of the LWCF bill mandates spending at $900 million annually.
The LWCF, established in 1964, uses “earning from offshore oil and gas leasing” for projects, investments, and infrastructure on public lands and waters.
“This is a no-brainer, folks,” said U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.).
But Gardner said this bipartisanship should be able to achieve action on the LWCF, which also enjoys broad public support, despite competing House and Senate versions and mandatory funding language that could halt some Republican support.
“We are trying to make the lame duck a little less lame and to make sure that we get some productivity on LWCF, moving it forward,” Gardner said during a press conference in Washington, D.C.
“If you look at the great bipartisan support that we have for LWCF, the House of Representatives, the United States Senate, Republicans and Democrats coming together to reauthorize, fully fund the Land and Water Conservation program . . . [o]ne of the most important programs, the most important in my mind, conservation program this country has. The crown jewel of our conservation program efforts, at no cost to the taxpayer,” Gardner added.
If there is a vote, Gardner said, the support will materialize.
“Here’s the thing: I don’t think it has that many obstacles,” Gardner said. “If we can get this thing to the floor for a vote, there’s overwhelming support. It has more than 60 votes in the Senate. It has majority support in the House.”
Gardner also pointed to a recent analysis of federal public lands in Colorado, which looked at approximately 269,000 acres that were essentially off-limits to hikers, anglers, and hunters in the state because they lack sufficient infrastructure, are blocked by neighboring private property, or are still in their original, checkerboard state as a result of the railroad parceling system more than a century ago.
“There was a great story in the Denver Post, just a couple of days ago, that talked about the thousands and thousands of acres are inaccessible, held by the public, but inaccessible to the public, and programs like the Land and Water Conservation fund can be used to make sure that we have access to those great programs,” he said.
At nearly 450 square miles, an area bigger than Rocky Mountain National Park, according to the Post, the hundreds of thousands of acres in Colorado are joined by nearly 10 million acres of inaccessible public lands, largely in Montana, Nevada, and Wyoming.
In Colorado, the vast majority of the land is supervised by the Bureau of Land Management, with a smaller portion maintained by the U.S. Forest Service.
Other Republicans said they expected progress on LWCF, despite concerns within their own caucus.
“I expect it to happen … and when I am optimistic about something, you realize, that is a unique situation,” said U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), who added that he thought a bipartisan coalition could have “everything tied up” before December 7 on the House version of the bill.
Congress needs to pass a year-end spending package by midnight next Friday in order to avert a partial government shutdown, according to E&E News.