The popular Land and Conservation Water Fund has pumped more than $17 billion into thousands of projects nationwide in a half century. Around $171 million has gone into Utah projects like building neighborhood playgrounds, developing the Bonneville Shoreline Trail and restoring wildlife habitat.
The head of the House Natural Resources Committee, Utah’s Rob Bishop, says it’s time to reform the program that amounted to $300 million last year.
But Congress let the Land and Water Conservation Fund expire last month. And now the Utah Republican is proposing to replace it.
“If we’re going to spend this much money, we can’t think small,” he told reporters in a conference call Thursday. “We have to think of something big that’s going to help people.”
The conservation fund traditionally used offshore energy royalties for recreation facilities and public-land purchases, like buying inholdings in national parks and forests.
Bishop’s plan reins in federal land purchases and devotes some of the money to beefing up offshore energy programs. He also says states should get the 60 percent share that federal agencies have gotten.
“This kind of lopsided funding ratio,” he said, “has limited the funds available to establish recreation projects and facilities that can be responsibly managed and maintained by state and local entities while it’s vastly expanded the federal estate.”
Hearings are planned later this month, but critics say they want the old fund back.
“Congressman Bishop’s proposal would do away with this incredibly popular and important program and instead funds his pet projects,” said Greg Zimmerman, policy director at the Center for Western Priorities.
He contends lawmakers from both parties and from all parts of the country want the old program reauthorized.