Jeopardizing Our Nation's Wildlife & Parks: House Proposes $393 Million Reduction to the Land and Water Conservation Fund

Late Friday House Republicans revealed a package of proposed cuts to a number of federal programs for the remainder of the fiscal year.  While the goal of deficit reduction – independent of political persuasion – has its merits, the cuts detailed by the House Republicans seem more like an attempt to cater to special interests than an example of a thoughtful and reasoned approach towards reducing inefficiency and waste in the federal government.  The most drastic cuts were often reserved for those programs that safeguard America’s natural resources or focused on laying the groundwork necessary to assist the emerging clean energy sector.  And for what is surely not a coincidence, a substantial number of these proposed cuts are for programs that Big Oil and other polluting industries fundamentally oppose.  Conversely, it is little wonder that those federal programs that serve dirty industries either are left untouched, or remain nearly intact. 

Among the roll of cuts was a proposed $393 million reduction to the Land and Water Conservation Fund; a development that should be of great concern for anyone who values this nation’s incomparable natural heritage.  Known as LWCF, the program provides funds to local governments, states, and federal agencies to protect key natural areas.  In essence, LWCF provides the seed money to purchase and manage community parks and wildlife refuges across the nation.  LWCF has been wildly successful in ensuring that Americans have ample opportunities to recreate, hunt, and fish.  It has also been instrumental in securing clean water sources that every individual in this country depends upon.  Since its creation in 1964, LWCF has awarded over 40,000 grants. More than 29,000 of these projects were for local parks and recreation facilities in every state of the nation.  Other grants have gone to protect the most iconic places in this country.  A short list would include such treasured spots as: Cape Cod National Seashore, Point Reyes National Seashore, North Cascades National Park, Redwoods National Park, and the Appalachian National Scenic Trail.  All told, over three million acres have been permanently secured by the LWCF program.

What makes the proposed cuts to LWCF even more exasperating – a cut which amounts to practically zeroing out of the LWCF trust for the remainder of this fiscal year – is that LWCF was never designed to be used as a political chip.  LWCF’s funding is derived by reserving a small percentage of the royalties that are assessed from the revenues generated by offshore oil and gas drilling.  One of the rationales for such a mechanism was to ensure that in exchange for the privilege to drill for publicly owned oil and gas resources, oil and gas companies would pay their share in order to mitigate for the environmental impacts associated with drilling (see this summer’s Gulf spill disaster as an example).  This seemed to be a sound proposition, and despite years of Congressional meddling, has worked for the most part.  But rather than honoring this obligation, House Republicans are violating that trust in order to demonstrate that they are one step closer to meeting an artificial savings target.  However, they have demonstrated a willingness to jeopardize our nation’s wildlife and natural heritage by gutting a program that has done little to contribute to the deficit.