April 09, 2019

Bipartisan Bill Calls For Mandatory LWCF Funding | E&E News

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) will introduce today bipartisan legislation to provide permanent, full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, his office confirmed last night.

The "Land and Water Conservation Fund Permanent Funding Act" would make funding for the LWCF mandatory at its current authorized annual level of $900 million, according to a bill summary from Manchin's office.

"This was the original intent when the LWCF was established and credited with revenues from offshore oil and gas receipts," said the summary. "But this intent has not been realized because of the requirement in current law that expenditures from the LWCF must be appropriated."

Under Manchin's bill, offshore oil and gas revenues deposited into the fund could be spent without being subject to the appropriations process. In recent years, LWCF's annual appropriation has been about half the authorized level of $900 million.

In fiscal 2019, Congress appropriated $435 million for LWCF. The current unappropriated balance in the fund stands at more than $22 billion.

Several Democrats and Republicans are expected to co-sponsor the bill along with Manchin, the ranking member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said Sam Runyon, a spokeswoman for ENR Democrats.

Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado will be the lead Republican sponsor of the legislation, Runyon said. The full list of co-sponsors was not finalized at the time of publication.

The legislation also would require the president to submit a detailed proposal for LWCF funding in the White House's annual budget request but would give Congress "the ability to reprioritize" that proposal as it sees fit, the summary said.

The expected legislation sets up a new round of potential fireworks over the popular land and water conservation program that Congress permanently reauthorized in February as part of a major public lands package (E&E News PM, March 12).

At the time, Manchin promised that securing mandatory funding for LWCF was "our next big lift" and that supporters need "to make sure that gets done."

Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, a hunting and fishing group and big supporter of LWCF, last night praised the expected bipartisan bill.

"Let's talk about momentum," said Land Tawney, president and CEO of the group, in a statement to E&E News. "In February, the Senate voted overwhelmingly — 92-8! — in support of permanently reauthorizing LWCF. The time is now to carry that momentum forward and invest in our future by ensuring LWCF's full, dedicated funding."

Laura Daniel Davis, vice president of conservation strategy at the National Wildlife Federation, said "full, dedicated funding" for LWCF is "an essential next step following the program's permanent reauthorization last year."

But many Republicans in both chambers are opposed to making LWCF funding mandatory.

"Good luck," said Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah, the top Republican on the House Natural Resources Committee when told last night about Manchin's impending bill. "He can introduce what he wants to," Bishop said, adding, "I don't think it will pass the Senate."

The Utahn helped shepherd through Congress the public lands package that included LWCF's permanent reauthorization, but he opposes making LWCF funding mandatory. "It's the wrong thing to do," Bishop said.

House Natural Resources Chairman Raúl Grijalva said last night he was not aware that Manchin was planning to introduce the legislation today. "Let them do that, and then we can deal with the question over here," said the Arizona Democrat, who supports permanent funding for the program.

Like Bishop, however, he predicted the legislation would have a more difficult time passing the Senate than the House.


By:  Kellie Lunney