Wednesday, December 16, 2015

At Year’s End, Advocates Push for Renewal of Conservation Fund

Andrea Sears, Public News Service

The Land and Water Conservation Fund helps maintain the Allegheny National Forest. (Nicholas A. Tonelli/Wikimedia Commons)
The Land and Water Conservation Fund helps maintain the Allegheny National Forest. (Nicholas A. Tonelli/Wikimedia Commons)
HARRISBURG, Pa. - Advocates are calling on Congress to permanently reauthorize a federal fund that supports parks, nature preserves and outdoor recreational facilities across the country.

Created in 1965, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has helped fund projects in virtually every county in every state. But this fall Congress failed to reauthorize the fund. Gary Thornbloom, who co-chairs the Pennsylvania Sierra Club, called that failure "a broken promise."

"The fund was created as a promise to all Americans that a small - very small - portion of oil and gas royalties from offshore drilling would be invested back in America," he said.

Bills to reauthorize the fund have broad bipartisan support but have failed to clear a critical House committee.

Every year, up to $900 million from offshore oil and gas royalties have gone into the fund, which has provided almost $300 million for projects in Pennsylvania alone. According to Thornbloom, it has helped create and maintain everything from swimming pools to a 21,000-acre wildlife refuge.

"There's been Land Water Conservation Fund projects in the Allegheny National Forest, battlefields, the Flight 93 Memorial had some money involved, Gettysburg, local parks," he said.

Many projects combine Conservation Fund money with matching state and local grants, increasing the impact on local parks and recreational facilities.

A new bill to permanently reauthorize the program, HR 4151, was introduced Dec. 1 in the House. Thornbloom said that bill may be able to bypass the roadblock in the Natural Resources Committee.

"Republicans and Democrats have bought into a compromise, and that would have to go on to the appropriations bill," he said. "I think that's the only way it gets reauthorized in this session."

HR 4151 has gained the support of conservationists who call it a reasonable compromise and a viable path forward for the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

The bill is online at thomas.loc.gov.

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