On October 2, the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources approved a bipartisan bill (S. 569) to permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). The bill would also make LWCF funding mandatory, effectively exempting future LWCF allotments from the uncertainties of the annual federal appropriations process. LWCF was first authorized by Congress in 1965 to provide funds to acquire land for federal, state and local parks, wildlife areas, forests, recreation areas and culture sites.
LWCF is divided into two programs: stateside, which provides grants to states and local governments, and federal, which is used to acquire lands and waters that have a national significance. The program is funded through oil and gas leasing revenues on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). The OCS refers to all submerged coastal lands that lie between state and international waters (the federal government oversees all activity on OCS lands).
The bill continues to authorize LWCF at $900 million annually, although Congress typically appropriates funds at about half that level. In FY 2018, the program received $487.6 million. Over the lifespan of the program, LWCF has received nearly $40 billion and currently has $22 billion in existing funds. Since LWCF authorization expired on September 30, no OCS revenues are currently being collected.
Across the Capitol, the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources approved its own LWCF reauthorization bill in September, which, like the Senate, permanently reauthorizes the fund. However, the House version does not make the program mandatory, and therefore would require LWCF to receive funding through the annual congressional appropriations process.
While House and Senate committee leaders have committed to passing legislation to reauthorize LWCF before the end of the 115th Congress, LWCF remains controversial with some members of Congress in states with a large amount of federal lands. These members argue that LWCF funds should also be used towards public lands maintenance. An additional concern among these members is that the federal acquisition of locally owned lands takes away potential revenue from local governments.
NACo supports continued financial support for LWCF with funding priority given to those areas in greatest need of open space protection. Additionally, NACo supports an annual allocation of adequate stateside funding to provide matching grants to states, local governments and special districts to purchase park lands and open space and to develop trails and other outdoor recreation amenities.