Obama looks to fully fund federal conservation program

Obama looks to fully fund federal conservation program
© Thinkstock

The White House will ask Congress to fully fund the main federal conservation fund in 2017.

The Interior Department announced Thursday that President Obama will request a $900 million allotment for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) as part of his 2017 budget request. The budget will also look to make LWCF funding mandatory and permanently reauthorize the program. 

ADVERTISEMENT
The LWCF, a popular program that funds park improvements and land acquisition around the country, has a $900 million pot of money available to it each year thanks to revenues from offshore oil and gas drilling. 

Congress, though, rarely allocates anywhere close to that amount. As part of December's government spending deal, lawmakers gave the fund $450 million for the 2016 fiscal year, which itself is nearly double what they spent in 2015. 

In an Interior Department blog post, two Obama administration officials called the proposal a win for parks programs around the country. 

“By fully and permanently funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund — as millions of Americans are urging — we can do our part to help sustain our nation’s public lands and waters for present and future generations,” wrote Kris Sarri, an assistant secretary at the Interior Department, and Robert Bonnie, an undersecretary at the Department of Agriculture.

The LWCF turned into a contentious political issue last year.

Though the fund is broadly popular, lawmakers allowed it to lapse in September without passing a reauthorization measure. 

Some Republicans from Western states, led by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob BishopRob BishopPuerto Rico’s statehood win was a ruse Another deal on power debt won’t help Puerto Rico's economy Interior secretary: Trump should reduce size of Utah national monument MORE (R-Utah), had hoped to overhaul the program before signing off on an extension. The decision was derided by Democrats, many parks and conservation groups, and even some Republicans who support the program.

Lawmakers reauthorized the program for three years in its year-end budget deal.

The fund’s supporters praised Obama’s funding request Thursday. 

“The president’s proposal to fully fund and permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund will help ensure the great outdoors — parks, rivers and wildlife habitat — are accessible to all Americans today and for years to come,” Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the ranking member of the Natural Resources Committee, said in a statement. 

The proposal “is a win for communities across the country that benefit from the economic, cultural and recreational value of America’s public lands and close-to-home recreation,” said Jamie Williams, the president of the Wilderness Society.