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Land, water fund faces reauthorization deadline

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

A government program that has provided $312 million to over 1,200 projects in New Mexico since its inception in 1965 is scheduled to expire at the end of September, and Congress has yet to act.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund, designed to improve access to public land and water, is funded through offshore drilling royalties.

It was previously authorized by Congress for two 25-year periods and was reauthorized in 2016 for two years.

Although many in Congress on both sides of the aisle support the fund, there are disagreements on funding levels and whether it should be permanently reauthorized.

That congressional support remains despite a more than 90 percent funding cut to the program proposed in President Donald Trump’s 2019 budget.

The entire New Mexico delegation expressed support for fully funding – $900 million – and reauthorizing the LWCF by the deadline.

There are currently two pieces of legislation to reauthorize the fund in the Senate and one in the House.

With the exception of Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., each member of the New Mexico delegation supports permanent reauthorization of the fund.

“I support reauthorizing and fully funding the LWCF. This, however, should not be a permanent reauthorization,” Pearce said in an emailed statement. “Just as changes are needed during this debate – future changes will be needed and that is protected by reauthorizing the program from time to time.”

Pearce said that in recent years, the fund has been used heavily for land acquisition.

“This model is unsustainable, as the government cannot manage the lands it already has,” he said.

Rebekah Hoshiko, a spokeswoman for the House Committee on Natural Resources, wrote in an email that the fund is generally used for three purposes: as the main funding source for land acquisition by the Bureau of Land Management, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service; a grant program that aids states in recreational planning, acquiring lands and waters, and developing outdoor recreational facilities; and other federal programs.

“In FY18, funding was roughly even to all three purposes,” she wrote.

Around $487 million was appropriated during the past fiscal year.

In New Mexico, the LWCF has been used for everything from baseball diamonds and public pools to state parks and shooting ranges.

“In a state like New Mexico where we have almost a $10 billion outdoor recreation industry, the LWCF is really important for supporting that industry because oftentimes it’s how we purchase new access points and open up previously inaccessible portions of public land,” Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., said in a phone call Wednesday.

Heinrich said he believes there is enough bipartisan support to reauthorize the fund, but if it isn’t done before Sept. 30, bureaucratic hiccups could result.

But Hoshiko said LWCF monies can still be appropriated after the deadline. “As a matter of fact, the only part of LWCF that expires Sept. 30 is the ability to accrue revenues – the authority to appropriate funding for LWCF and to implement LWCF projects does not end on that date,” she wrote, adding that the fund currently has an unappropriated balance of $21.5 billion, which would be depleted in 70 years if current appropriation rates continue.