In the good news department, the U.S. Senate included language in the Energy Policy Modernization Act (the “Energy bill”) it recently approved which provides for the permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. New Hampshire’s two U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Kelly Ayotte have been key champions of the program and pushed to have the reauthorization provision included in the larger energy bill. Their support resulted in the first vote ever by either the U.S. House or Senate to make permanent this critically important conservation law.
Why is this step noteworthy? As you recall, last year the LWCF’s authority to provide funding for the conservation of our country’s parks, forests, wildlife spaces and wilderness areas was temporarily suspended after some program opponents in Congress blocked efforts to extend that authority. Now, if the LWCF language is finally enacted into law, every future generation will be able to rely on the central role the program has played for 50 years in the protection of our national parks, forests, wilderness, coastlines, mountains, and other special places.
Of course, with any good news coming out of Washington, D.C., there are caveats to keep in mind. In this case, the U.S. House of Representatives has a version of the energy bill it approved in December, 2015 which does not include a permanent LWCF reauthorization. Both houses will now have to reconcile the differences in their respective energy bills in order to get to a final, consensus bill. The LWCF may emerge as one of the contentious issues conferees will struggle to address. It may be surprising to hear that a program which does not use any taxpayer dollars – the LWCF is funded using a small portion of revenues from offshore oil and gas royalty payments- and helps to safeguard the country’s irreplaceable natural areas could be viewed as controversial. Unfortunately, because the Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee is openly hostile to it and opposes permanent reauthorization, that is exactly the case with the LWCF.
However, Sen. Lisa Murkowski , who chairs the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, says she is optimistic the two chambers can come to an agreement. Given the bipartisanship the Senate demonstrated on this issue, so are the coalition of land owners, small businesses, ranchers, sportsmen, veterans, outdoor recreationists and conservation organizations who are working together in support of the reauthorization and full funding of the LWCF.