Conservation fund gets 3-year lifeline in spending bill

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The federal government’s main fund for land conservation got a three-year renewal in the government spending bill released early Wednesday morning.

The reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) puts to rest, for now, the hard-fought battle over whether to dramatically overhaul the fund to reduce the government’s power to control land.

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The spending bill also gives the fund $450 million for the coming fiscal year, a near 50 percent increase over the previous level.

But the small victory is far from what environmentalists and conservationists wished for, which was a permanent authorization of the program at its maximum $900 million annual budget.

“The short-term renewal of America’s most successful parks program is a sign of the ineffectiveness of this Congress and deep dysfunction in Washington,” Jennifer Rokala, executive direct of the Center for Western Priorities, said in a statement.

“The American people are tired of Congress playing kick-the-can with programs that work,” she said.

“Congress had the opportunity to do the right thing for LWCF once and for all but failed to move language already developed that would permanently reauthorize one of our nation’s most historic, successful conservation programs,” said Land Tawney, executive director of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.

The 50-year-old program, which expired on Oct. 1, directs some money from offshore oil and natural gas drilling toward conservation efforts such as acquiring new land and funding state park programs.

While it enjoys bipartisan support, some conservatives complain that it allows the federal government to expand its reach by buying up private land and that it helps fund environmental groups that sell land to federal officials.

House Natural Resources Chairman Rob BishopRob BishopWeek ahead: Wait drags on for energy talks Interior ‘strongly opposes’ bill to disarm federal land law enforcement Overnight Energy: GOP chairman ramps up fight with states over Exxon MORE (R-Utah) proposed a measure that would reauthorize the program and give it more money but mandate that some funds go to oil industry training, urban parks and other specific expenses.

The bill received some conservative support, but Democrats and the Obama administration objected.

In the Senate, Sen. Richard BurrRichard BurrOvernight Cybersecurity: Hackers hit Brexit petition Senate Intel leader: ISIS using encrypted apps to plan attacks Gun-control supporters plan next steps versus NRA MORE (R-N.C.) single-handedly held up legislative action on an overhaul of the nation’s chemical safety laws in order to demand a vote on permanently authorizing the LWCF in its current state.