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Congress moves forward on Land and Water Conservation Fund reauthorization

The U.S. Senate voted Feb. 12 to permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund, an important funding source for conservation projects nationwide. 

The bill was introduced by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, with a bipartisan list of co-sponsors. Though Sen. Richard Burr, R-North Carolina, is not included on the sponsor list, he introduced a related piece of legislation this month that also attempted to permanently reauthorize the fund. 

“The Land and Water Conservation Fund may cost taxpayers nothing, but Congress’ failure to renew it would cost us all dearly,” Burr said in a press release. “Without this program, every state in the country would lose out on valuable outdoor recreation projects, beautiful natural landscapes, and easy access to state and national parks. It’s been four months since LWCF was allowed to expire despite its proven track record of success and overwhelming bipartisan support. It is long past time for Congress do the right thing by renewing America’s most successful conservation program.”

The Land and Water Conservation Fund was created in 1964 to protect natural areas using revenues from offshore oil and gas extraction. The initial legislation was good for 25 years, and the program was renewed for a second 25-year period ending Sept. 30, 2015. It was then given a short-term extension for three years, but efforts to permanently reauthorize it failed before the program’s sunset on Sept. 30, 2018. 

The bill, which is currently awaiting a vote in the House, would remove the sunset clause for the fund, allowing 12.5 percent of revenues from offshore drilling on the Outer Continental Coast to be deposited in the fund. Of that amount, at least 40 percent would be used for federal purposes and at least 40 percent would be used to financially assist the states. At least 3 percent or $15 million, whichever is greater, would go toward recreational public access projects. 

The reauthorization is included as part of a much larger piece of legislation titled the Natural Resources Management Act, S.47, which can be tracked at www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/senate-bill/47. For more about the Land and Water Conservation Fund’s importance to Western North Carolina, visit www.smokymountainnews.com/archives/item/26258.

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