The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) has expired, so, what is next?
Our fight is definitely not over! In the coming weeks, the LWCF Coalition will be working with our partners across the country and champions on Capitol Hill to secure the future of LWCF on behalf of the places we love and all of the recreation and economic benefits it brings to the American people. Don’t forget, we have a $887 billion recreation economy that relies on access to our outdoors!
With lots of conversations about the future of the program, here is a quick update on the importance of authorization with full dedicated funding, where LWCF currently stands, and how you can get involved.
LWCF’s expiration does not mean there will be no funding for land acquisitions by the federal agencies or grants to the states, because Congress can still provide funding for these conservation projects and programs. In fact, we fully expect that Congress will fund LWCF in the FY 19 Interior and Environment Appropriations bill. However, LWCF’s expiration means that the annual funding deposits the program receives for these acquisitions have ended until LWCF is reauthorized.
Sounding a bit technical? Let us explain.
Unlike other programs that rely on tax dollars, LWCF funding comes from deposits made in a special account from offshore oil and natural gas drilling in the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). As of expiration on October 1, those OCS revenues, which provided over 50 years of funding to LWCF conservation and recreation priorities, are no longer flowing into LWCF’s account in the Treasury. That is a loss of $2.46 million every day that the program remains expired.
Put simply, there is no money being set aside to pay the bill for LWCF projects, putting the annual funding for these projects at greater risk in an always-challenging federal budget environment.
For 53 years, the sensible and practical asset-for-asset agreement (profits from depletion of our offshore oil and gas being reinvested in conservation of our lands and waters) and the fact that LWCF projects are essentially paid for in advance with OCS revenue have been pillars of LWCF’s bipartisan support. It’s important to note that these are not taxpayer dollars.
All About the Money...
There is an urgent need to re-establish these deposits, and to protect the future of LWCF with both permanent reauthorization AND dedicated full funding. Even before this year’s expiration, LWCF regularly saw much of its annual $900 million in OCS energy revenue diverted away from conservation. In fact, more than $22 billion has been siphoned off from the LWCF account over the past 53 years to other, unknown purposes-- money that could and should have protected more parks, more trails, more clean water, more wildlife habitat, more recreation opportunities… more of the things we need and the places we love.
Limited funds have always created a serious challenge for those working hard on LWCF projects. Already, the diversion of more than half of LWCF’s intended dollars, as well as big fluctuations in appropriations, has meant long years of waiting for project partners with no guarantee of success. With the additional uncertainty created by expiration, and its possible impact on the annual Congressional funding process, communities will struggle to plan conservation futures, and landowners will be less willing to risk a long and uncertain process to sell land or put easements on their property for conservation. We already are seeing these real on-the-ground effects of expiration on the project pipeline.
But There is Hope!
Legislation to stop these diversions and ensure that LWCF gets its intended $900M every single year-- what we call dedicated funding - passed through the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee by a wide bipartisan margin in early October (S. 569). This was a huge step forward, just as LWCF expired! It seems absurd, but in fact the expiration deadline helped create major momentum toward this breakthrough. Now at this point of maximum crisis, there is potential for a real win.
Congress will come back after the midterm elections for an end-of-year “lame duck” session, to hammer out agreements on at least a few outstanding issues. Given the momentum that has been building on the importance of this program to America’s outdoor recreation economy and the places people love in all 50 states, there is a strong chance LWCF will be one of them. But politics has a short attention span and there are many pressing priorities, so we can’t let up for even a second.
What Can I Do to Help?
Maintaining a steady drumbeat of vocal support for LWCF is essential right now. Contacting your Members of Congress, sharing a story of LWCF success or an LWCF place you love in your community, and staying active on social media (using our hashtag #SaveLWCF) are all great ways to engage. We also have an ongoing letter to Capitol Hill that we encourage more to join.
Wondering more about the LWCF legislation? The dedicated-funding bills in both chambers (S. 569 & H.R. 6759) don’t change the mission or the process by which LWCF funds are given out. They ensure continued Congressional oversight and control through the appropriations process, including the assessment of annual needs and the mix of projects and grants funded according to changing opportunities and submissions from state and community partners. This framework creates an important layer of protection and accountability across changing Administrations, and it doesn’t mess around with something that really works. If your Member of Congress is not yet a cosponsor, they should be!
Please help us to stand up for LWCF and make sure its half-century claim to OCS funding is honored now. Sign the letter, call your Members, write your local paper, send a tweet that says Congress must #SaveLWCF permanently, with dedicated funding, before the end of 2018!