Obama seeks $900M for conservation program

Obama seeks $900M for conservation program
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The Obama administration is pulling out the stops to renew and expand a little-known program that uses offshore drilling revenue for conservation.

The administration has pushed Congress to triple the amount of money available for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which officials use to acquire land, build recreation facilities and maintain parks.

The program is likely to be renewed before it expires next year, given the strong bipartisan support for conservation, but President Obama’s push for a funding increase is meeting resistance.

House Republicans say the additional funding would be wasteful and allow the federal government to unnecessarily snatch up more private and state land.

“Just acquiring more and more federal land that’s not receiving the stewardship that can be provided to that land by either private owners or states, I fail to see the logic behind that,” said Rep. Cynthia LummisCynthia LummisFemale lawmakers flee House for higher office, retirement Despite a battle won, 'War on Coal' far from over Dems on offense in gubernatorial races MORE (R-Wyo.), a member of the House Natural Resources Committee.

“I just don’t see it happening. I don’t see full funding,” she said.

Interior Secretary Sally JewellSally JewellDon’t rewrite the rules to mine next to Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Outdoor gear companies take on Trump Overnight Regulation: Trump administration lifts Obama freeze on federal coal mining MORE has led the administration’s promotional efforts for the fund. While touring the country, she was joined at times by agency leaders other federal officials, lawmakers, state or local officials.

In addition to renewing the 50-year-old program, Jewell wants access to the full $900 million annual budget it is supposed to have. Revenue from offshore oil and gas drilling deposits $900 million into the fund every year, but congressional appropriators have only given the Interior Department and the Forest Service one-third of that, amounting to $305.5 million in fiscal 2014.

Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), another member of the Natural Resources panel, said he wants to see the conservation program renewed with the entire fund made available.

“It’s very important that we do that,” he said. “This is something that used to be very bipartisan, still should be.”

Huffman balked at proposals he said would add “ideological baggage” to the program, such as restricting the government’s ability to acquire more land. Federal officials can also use the fund to establish conservation easements on private property.

Prospects for a funding increase look better in the Senate.

Sens. Richard BurrRichard BurrKushner says he did not collude with Russia, had no improper contacts Dems slam Trump for 'stonewalling' oversight efforts Burr: Nunes 'created' unmasking allegations against Rice MORE (R-N.C.) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamSenate heading for late night ahead of ObamaCare repeal showdown Two GOP senators back ObamaCare repeal after Ryan call Senate releases 'skinny' ObamaCare repeal bill MORE (R-S.C.) have signed onto a bill with 40 Democrats that would renew the fund indefinitely and give federal officials access to the full $900 million.

“It is something that Republicans should embrace, and it’s good for the country,” Graham said.

Even though Graham and Burr are the only Republican supporters of the measure, Graham said it’s something conservatives could get behind.

“It’s a good approach: preserving land, rewarding the private sector when they do it.”

Sen. Ron WydenRon WydenGAO looking into improper HHS healthcare tweets Overnight Tech: Trump touts new Wisconsin electronics plant | Lawmakers to unveil email privacy bill | Facebook funds group fighting election hacks Overnight Finance: House votes to repeal arbitration rule | Yellen, Cohn on Trump's list for Fed chief | House passes Russia sanctions deal | GOP centrists push back on border wall funding MORE (D-Ore.) is also working toward giving the conservation program the full funding amount.

“I’m a very strong supporter of it, and I’m working on both a temporary effort and making it permanent,” he said. Wyden declined to provide details of his proposal, saying he and his colleagues are still hashing it out.

Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseDem senators 'seek assurances' Icahn not swaying regulators on AIG: report Overnight Regulation: Federal prisons want to increase use of restraints | EPA moves ahead on water rule repeal Overnight Energy: EPA moves forward with water rule repeal MORE (D-R.I.) said the program is ripe for a vote during the lame-duck session after the midterm elections, even though it won’t expire until September of next year.

Some senators are against a funding increase.

Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa MurkowskiSenate heading for late night ahead of ObamaCare repeal showdown Live Coverage: Senate edges close to passing scaled-down ObamaCare repeal Senate releases 'skinny' ObamaCare repeal bill MORE (R-Alaska) said she supports the fund, especially the money set aside to help states with their own conservation efforts but said budget constraints should argue against an increase.

“It’s all fabulous, but where are you going to get the money to pay for it? What I’d like to do is, instead of using so much money to buy more land, let’s figure out a way we’re going to take care of what we’ve got.”

Alan Rowsome, who leads the Wilderness Society’s advocacy efforts for land programs, predicted that the conservation program would be renewed with full funding after the election.

“We’re working with members on both sides of the aisle for opportunities in the lame duck and believe that the program is so supportive to local communities that it really does need to be reauthorized,” he said.

“It has a 50-year history of an incredible track record of land conservation around the country that has led to livable urban communities, as well as additions to some of the most iconic national parks, wildlife refuges and national forests around the country.”