This morning, the House Natural Resources Committee is finally—after months of unnecessary delay from a single member—holding a hearing on the now-expired Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). Authorized in 1964, LWCF has long funded communities across the nation to protect and build parks, playgrounds and trails, boosting economies and quality of life.
After 50 years, the fund expired back in September, and committee Chairman Rob Bishop has been blocking its reauthorization ever since. Instead of working to fully fund and permanently reauthorize America’s most popular parks program in a timely manner, Rep. Bishop has come up with legislation to do the opposite. In effect, his “reform” bill will completely gut LWCF—and that’s the topic of today’s hearing.
LWCF has enjoyed widespread bipartisan support since its inception, and today’s hearing is no different. That’s because western leaders know how critical the fund has been in supporting local economies through outdoor recreation and tourism to parks and public spaces.
But Rep. Bishop—even though he in 2009 requested that $500,000 of the fund be set aside for land acquisition in Utah—is unfortunately not one of them. While his constituents and a strong majority throughout the country request full funding for LWCF, Rep. Bishop has turned his sights instead to the special interests that have donated over $280,000 to his cause: Big Oil.
In fact, Rep. Bishop’s version of an LWCF bill leaves a mere 3.5% of funds to federal land projects, focusing a much larger sum on training oil and gas workers and spurring a renewed push for offshore energy development. The funds that his bill does set aside for western parks and lands are meager—just $4.7 million. The Center for Western Priorities has estimated that various land management agencies have an outstanding request for $249 million from the fund, so Rep. Bishop’s version funds just 1.9% of that need—a near-absurd shortfall.
The priorities present in Rep. Bishop’s bill are the exact opposite of the original stated intent of the program: to use the royalties from offshore oil and gas drilling to conserve land, improving access for recreation and enjoyment by all Americans.
There are plenty of controversial issues in Congress today, but America’s most popular parks program absolutely should not be one of them. It’s time for Rep. Rob Bishop to realize that he’s acting as a lone wolf, and to stop holding up permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. It’s good for both communities and economies—and most of all, it’s what Americans want.