Yesterday, the House Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on Utah Representative Rob Bishop’s “discussion draft” for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF, or the Fund). In the past, at least 40% of the Fund has been set aside for projects on federal lands, but Rep. Rob Bishop’s draft proposes shrinking that number to a measly 3.5%, and raising the percentage of funds that go to oil and gas companies up to 20%.
Wait, what? If that doesn’t make sense to you, you’re not the only one. Nowhere in the original fund were handouts to oil companies included. Nonetheless, Rep. Bishop’s bill sets aside 20% of all funds for the dual purpose of streamlining permits for offshore energy development, and for creating the Offshore Energy Technology Hub, which benefits his donors in the oil and gas industry. The latter would provide education grants and workforce training for the oil and gas industry—a multi-billion-dollar industry.
The fact that Rep. Bishop is borrowing from LWCF to please the oil and gas industry just adds insult to injury. A recent analysis found that for just western parks and lands, the need for LWCF dollars is upwards of $240 million—and Rep. Bishop’s bill would give them a mere $4.7 million. That’s a puny 1.9% of what’s needed to provide increased access to sportsmen, recreationists, and the next generation of parks-users.
Rep. Bishop’s logic for this extreme downgrade—from “at least 40%” to “no more than 3.5%”—is that the federal government already owns enough land; it doesn’t need more. However, during yesterday’s hearing, Rep. Lowenthal pointed out that when LWCF took effect in 1965, the government owned 770 million acres of the U.S. Today, the federal government owns no more than 640 million acres—a decrease of more than 100 million acres throughout LWCF’s tenure.
Unfortunately, it’s not surprising that this is the tact Rep. Bishop is taking, given that he’s received over $280,000 from Big Oil. When asked about this, Rep. Bishop acknowledged it, but didn’t have a good answer as to the need for subsidies.
LWCF has enjoyed widespread bipartisan support for 50 whole years, and has no place among those controversial issues. It’s time for Rep. Bishop to get out of the way, and allow the permanent reauthorization and timely full funding of LWCF.