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Los Angeles Times: Reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund

November 8, 2018 GMT

For more than 50 years, fees on offshore oil and gas drilling have provided billions of dollars for the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund to protect redwood forests, Joshua trees, beaches, mountains, parks, trails and other natural treasures in California — and similar assets around the nation. But the fund’s authorization expired at the end of September, and Congress left for its autumn recess without renewing it.

When it reconvenes in a lame duck session after Veterans Day, Congress should permanently reauthorize the fund and ensure that the fees are used for their intended purposes: to acquire and protect natural areas and to make grants to states for outdoor access and recreation.

On its adoption in 1964, the Land and Water Conservation Fund allowed the federal government to purchase land using revenue from recreation fees.

Federal law allows up to $900 million to be appropriated each year, which is less than the amount of revenue flowing in; as a result, billions of dollars sit in the fund unused. But money doesn’t actually come out of the fund until Congress appropriates it.

And Congress routinely did, with bipartisan backing and without controversy, until several years ago, when some lawmakers tried to link the fund and its grants to the controversy over federal land ownership and management in Western states.

But even lawmakers who are partial to this so-called sagebrush rebellion recognize that the link between their grievances and the Land and Water Conservation Fund is weak. The House Committee on Natural Resources approved a reauthorization bill on Sept. 13. Shortly after the current authorization expired, a Senate committee advanced its own version of the proposal. But lawmakers disagreed over details and never got a bill to the floor of either chamber.

The danger now is that a final deal on the fund will fall through the cracks as lawmakers argue over funding for the border wall and other controversial topics. That would be a shame. It ought to be easy to reach final agreement on a bill for which there is bipartisan support. It is low-hanging fruit, and Congress ought to pluck it as soon as it reconvenes.

— Los Angeles Times