House and Senate Move Toward Conference on Energy, Debate LWCF

Last month, the Senate passed the Energy Policy Modernization Act (S. 2012), which included a permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). This week, the House passed an amended version of S. 2012, paving the way for the House and Senate to move closer to a conference on this sweeping energy and public lands legislation. 

However, while the Senate worked hard to ensure its version of the bill enjoyed broad bipartisan support, the House version included numerous controversial provisions and passed in a vote that more or less fell along party lines.

Now the Senate must agree to go to conference with the House. If that happens, each chamber will appoint conferees who will be tasked with reconciling the substantial differences between the two bills.  As it currently stands, the House version does not include any sort of LWCF reauthorization. Thus, how to incorporate a long-term or permanent LWCF reauthorization will be a major point of discussion in any conference committee.

Legislators differ on the length of any LWCF reauthorization — some support a permanent reauthorization, while others have come out in favor of something shorter-term in nature. Additionally, lawmakers do not agree on how to reform and update the program, if at all.

While the Senate’s permanent LWCF reauthorization takes a positive step toward ensuring LWCF is reauthorized long into the future, it does not address the need to increase funding specifically for the State and Local Assistance program. This program provides matching grants to states for outdoor park and recreational development projects. 

State and Local Assistance projects can be found in every congressional district in the country and have been hugely successful at leveraging local funding and support for projects due to the requirement of a 50 percent match.

Furthermore, the Senate’s reauthorization does not include any specific provision to direct a portion of LWCF funding to urban communities that often lack close-to-home parks and open space. As a result, worthy local park and recreation projects that improve community health and boost economic development often go unfunded.

U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), who chairs the House Committee on Natural Resources, is likely to be named as a conferee should the Senate agree to go to conference with the House on S. 2012.  Congressman Bishop has publically announced that he opposes any permanent reauthorization of LWCF, meaning the Senate will need to negotiate with him if it wants any sort of LWCF provision included in the final package.

In addition, Bishop has proposed other reforms to the law. While many of his proposals detract from the law’s original intent of conservation and recreation, he has proposed a measure that supports a direct competitive grant program — referred to as the the CITIES program — for urban park and recreation funding. He has also proposed a minimum percentage allocation for State and Local Assistance of 40 percent. Setting such a minimum allocation would match what is currently in place for federal land acquisition, thereby restoring equity between the two primary components of LWCF.

Eighty percent of Americans now live in urban metropolitan areas. As lawmakers continue to debate how to reauthorize LWCF on a long-term or permanent basis, they must recognize the need to support local communities in their efforts to create parks for close-to-home recreation. In order to do so, Congress must restore equity between funds for federal land acquisition and those for State and Local Assistance grants. 

In addition, Congress must find a way to allocate LWCF funding directly to urban communities, which often lack adequate outdoor space or the resources to develop it.

About the Author

Kirsten Holland is policy associate at Advocacy Associates.

Top image: Gila National Forest in New Mexico. With funding through the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the Forest Service will be able to protect the largest private inholding remaining in the forest. Photo by Flickr user PIWO (CC BY-NC 2.0).

May 27, 2016

By Kirsten Holland