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Congress votes to reauthorize Conservation Fund

Congress votes to reauthorize Conservation Fund

Congress voted to permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund following a 363-62 vote of the U.S. House of Representatives Feb. 26. 

The vote followed a 92-8 passage in the Senate Feb. 12. The Natural Resources Management Act — a long piece of legislation that includes many other provisions aside from the reauthorization — will now be sent to the desk of President Donald Trump. 

Congressman Mark Meadows, R-Asheville, was one of the few representatives voting against the bill, which enjoyed broad bipartisan support, though in both houses all no votes came from Republicans. North Carolina Senators Richard Burr and Thom Tillis both voted in favor, with Burr in particular voicing continued support for reauthorization during the lapse. 

Meadows said that he voted against the bill despite being “very supportive of public lands and stewardship” because he didn’t feel it did enough to address the astronomical deferred maintenance backlog on federal lands. As of 2017, the last year for which reports are posted, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park had $215 million in deferred maintenance and the Blue Ridge Parkway had $462 million. 

“While no legislation is ever perfect, this was a missed opportunity to adequately steward lands for future generations,” said Meadows. “As an alternative, I’m a cosponsor of H.R.1225, a bill sponsored Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), which would restore our parks and protect public lands while also addressing the backlog issue.”

Introduced Feb. 14, the bill has 115 cosponsors representing both parties. If passed, it would cause 50 percent of all energy development revenues “that would otherwise be credited, covered or deposited as miscellaneous receipts under Federal law” — up to $1.3 billion — to be deposited in a newly created National Park Service and Public Lands Legacy Restoration Fund, with a sunset in fiscal year 2024. Funds would be used to address maintenance backlogs on existing federal lands. 

The bill as written would not have any impact on the reauthorization or continued lapse of the LWCF. 

The Land and Water Conservation Fund was created in 1964 to protect natural areas using revenues from offshore oil and gas extraction. The initial legislation was good for 25 years, and the program was renewed for a second 25-year period ending Sept. 30, 2015. It was then given a short-term extension for three years, but efforts to permanently reauthorize it failed before the program’s sunset on Sept. 30, 2018. 

Jonathan Asher, government relations manager at The Wilderness Society and a spokesman for the LWCF Coalition, said that the Feb. 26 vote was an historic win, but that the fight is not yet over. 

“For too long, LWCF funds have been raided for non-conservation government spending,” he said Feb. 26. “Today’s vote is a major win for conservation. LWCF’s funding continues to be low and erratic, creating uncertainty for landowners, stakeholders and community partners that rely on LWCF for multi-phase, highly leveraged projects. Our fight will not be over until LWCF gets permanent, full and dedicated funding.”

Text and voting history for the Natural Resources Management Act, S.47, is online at www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/senate-bill/47. The Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act, H.R. 1225, is online at www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/1225. For more about the Land and Water Conservation Fund’s importance to Western North Carolina, visit www.smokymountainnews.com/archives/item/26258.

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