Congressman Bishop Pushes Land and Water Conservation Fund Reform

Published March 4, 2016

A bill introduced by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) would give states more control over funds held in the 50-year-old Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).

LWCF, which now contains about $20 billion, is funded by royalties paid by companies producing oil and gas on the U.S. outer continental shelf. The funds are typically used to pay for federal land acquisitions.

Bishop’s bill would significantly cut the amount of money in LWCF used for federal land acquisition, sharply limiting new federal land expansion in Western states, and would ensure up to 45 percent of the money appropriated from LWCF each year would go to states to support local recreation and development. Bishop’s bill also dedicates a portion of the fund to rectify the more than $18.8 billion maintenance backlog on existing federal lands.

LWCF Is ‘Slush Fund’ for ‘Federal Bureaucrats’

Ron Arnold, executive vice president of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise, says states do not receive their fair share from the LWCF.

“Under current law, [states] are supposed to get up 50 percent of the fund in matching grants for local projects, but they are getting nowhere near that because it’s being used as a slush fund by federal bureaucrats,” Arnold said. “Bishop’s bill would rectify this imbalance.”

Arnold says LWCF’s benefits do not outweigh the problems it creates.

“As far as conserving land and water, there are places where the fund has done more harm than good.”

Private Alternatives Improve Environment

John Baden, chairman of the Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment, says although the federal government often mismanages public lands in the West, there is still a great deal of support for federal control.

“The government owns too much land, but there is overwhelming support for it, with roughly 80 percent of the public supporting federal retention,” Baden said. “They support this because people assume federal ownership of public lands implies the lands are maintained and protected.

“They aren’t,” said Baden. “Public lands have been badly mismanaged for decades, which is why I have proposed such lands be put into public trusts [or] other private alternatives to improve the environmental quality and economic performance of these lands.”

Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.