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.
And that’s important, because just in New Mexico the LWCF has invested $312 million in more than 1,200 projects across the state, from the Aztec Ruins National Monument to Zuni Pueblo playground development. As Heinrich points out in a news release, the LWCF has helped preserve the Valles Caldera, Ute Mountain and Valle de Oro National Wild Refuge and “also protects our drinking water, provides public land access, and ensures there are neighborhood parks, soccer fields, and baseball diamonds for our children.”
Udall, who is not seeking re-election and has just shy of two years to burnish his legacy, which includes the Dingell Act, says “full funding is the necessary next step. As the ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee responsible for LWCF funding, I have been proud to secure major funding for this essential program for several years in a row.”
Udall and Heinrich are correct to push for full funding. The public is tired of government programs that rob Peter to pay Paul, and deserves to have the intent of the Land Water Conservation Fund honored more than 50 years after its inception.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.