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Trump administration criticized for implementation of landmark conservation law

Environmental groups are decrying the Trump Administration’s execution of the Great American Outdoors Act and the Dingell Act, which permanently reauthorized the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The acts were hailed as major bipartisan victories providing sorely needed funding for maintenance and conservation of public lands, with Trump signing both into law.

The landmark GAOA uses royalties from offshore oil and natural gas to permanently and fully fund the Land and Water Conservation at $900 million a year to invest in conservation and recreation opportunities across the nation. It would also dedicate up to $9.5 billion over five years to address the high-priority repair needs on public lands. 

“The Administration has utterly blown its shot at implementing this historic conservation and recreation law, whiffing on three separate chances to get this right,” said Drew McConville, senior managing director of government relations at The Wilderness Society and a spokesperson for the LWCF Coalition.

The GAOA, which Trump signed Aug. 4, gave his administration 90 days to submit lists of projects to receive funding. The administration did not release the lists until a week after the deadline passed Nov. 2, and McConville said that the project lists have “nowhere near” the required level of detail and that they “short-sheet” federal land conservation and recreation.

The GAOA required that at least 40 percent of all LWCF monies be used to address urgent needs in America’s national parks, national wildlife refuges, national forests, national scenic and historic trails and other treasured federal public lands, with that same required threshold for critical state and local grant programs under LWCF. Trump’s plan does not meet that standard, environmental groups say.

While environmental groups are unhappy with the Trump Administration’s execution of the legislation, the LWCF Coalition applauds alternative LWCF spending plans released in both the House and Senate. The Senate version, released Nov. 10 by Senate Interior Appropriations Chairman Lisa Murkowski, comes closer to meeting the 40 percent threshold but ultimately falls short when all eligible LWCF deposits are included. The House bill does meet the standard.

McConville also blasted the secretarial order Department of Interior Secretary David Bernhardt released today that will guide implementation of the GAOA and LWCF funding. The guidelines will “place untenable new restrictions on already-authorized conservation and rewrite the rulebook for how LWCF works in communities across the country,” McConville said.

“Interior Sec. David Bernhardt’s latest efforts to sabotage the successful implementation of LWCF by not adequately addressing the National Park Service’s land acquisition backlog — and adding additional layers of bureaucracy — is an unconscionable violation of Congress’ intent,” added Phil Francis, chair of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks.

Bernhardt, meanwhile, said that the GAOA is the “greatest conservation funding law in U.S. history” and that the GAOA Implementation Task Force he established earlier this year has been working to develop a strategy that will maximize the act’s impact.

“Under the leadership of President Trump, Interior is hard at work to implement this landmark legislation and to be stewards of the money Congress has entrusted us to manage,” Bernhardt said. “These actions ensure land acquisitions will increase recreation opportunities, enhance conservation benefits and provide flexibility to our partners in states and local communities to ensure this investment is managed and allocated in the best possible manner.”

According to Bernhardt, the order prioritizes investments that increase public access for recreation, enhance conservation and support recovery of endangered species; increase flexibility for how states and communities match and spend LWCF grants; and gives states and communities a voice in federal land. Meanwhile, McConville criticized the order’s “needless limits” on western land conservation and “unnecessary procedural hurdles” for urgently needed projects. Francis said the order places too much emphasis on recreational access when determining funding.

No statement on the issue has been posted on the White House page since the lists were due.

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