The Land and Water Conservation Fund was established by Congress in 1964 to fulfill a bipartisan commitment to safeguard our natural areas, water resources and cultural heritage, and to provide recreation opportunities to all Americans.
– U.S. Department of the Interior
The LWCF is an idea beautiful in its simplicity: Take revenues from the depletion of one resource (offshore oil and gas) and use them to conserve another (parks, wildlife refuges, forests, open spaces, trails and wildlife habitat).
What’s far less attractive is how Congress has failed to ensure that money actually gets to where it was intended to go. Since its inception, the LWCF has accrued around $40 billion – yet Congress has diverted more than $21 billion to purposes other than the land and water protection the law intended.
Pork barrel construction projects. Unnecessary government programs. Abandoned military hardware. According to the Interior Department, just once in the fund’s 50-plus-year history has Congress appropriated full funding to support conservation and recreation projects. Is it any wonder there are tens of billions in backlogged federal and local conservation and recreation projects?
The Journal has supported making the LWCF permanent and fully funding it. This year Congress and the president took care of the former, making the LWCF permanent via the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act. As to the latter, President Trump’s budget plan contains zero for the LWCF.
U.S. Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, New Mexico Democrats, were among 14 senators co-sponsoring legislation this month to permanently fund the LWCF at $900 million annually. That would finally force the federal government to honor the 1964 intent behind, and name on, the fund and ensure its funding stream actually goes to conserving land and water.