Enviros decry loss of conservation funds in highway bill compromise

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"The Land and Water Conservation Fund is a proven conservation program with a legacy of success and bipartisan support, funded without new taxes," he continued. "The investments that would have been made would have improved access for hunters and anglers, provide new places for families to enjoy the outdoors, and protect valuable wild places and historical locations."

Bob Bendick, government relations director for the Arlington, Va.-based Nature Conservancy, agreed.

The elimination of the LWCF was “a sad event in the history of American conservation,” he said in a statement.

“With bipartisan support, the Senate version of the transportation bill would have provided $700 million per year for two years to address the huge demand for projects from across the country and would have reauthorized the program until 2022,” Bendick said. “But this provision was dropped entirely from the bill at the request of a group led by a vocal minority within the House of Representatives. This comes less than a week after the House Interior Appropriations subcommittee cut the president’s request for LWCF funding for 2013 by 80 percent.”

Republicans on the 47-member committee that convened on the transportation bill argued that scarce federal dollars that were being appropriated by the government on transportation should be spent on road and highway construction.

"If anything, the LWCF is detracting from resources that could be applied to improving our infrastructure and transportation needs in order to buy more land," Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) said in a statement provided to The Hill last week.

"As it stands, the federal government is already struggling to manage the more than 660 million acres it already owns," Bishop continued. "Clearly, the last thing it needs is more land.”

The Wilderness Society also took issue with the environmental regulations eliminated under the agreement between the House and Senate on the transportation bill.

“Shortchanging environmental guidelines leaves future generations to deal with the aftermath of environmental damage resulting from legislating a 'leap before you look' approach we saw with this bill." Moulton said.

Lawmakers on the transportation conference committee cast the changes to environmental regulations as a way of spending up the construction of projects they said would create jobs.

“We speed up project delivery, cut red tape, and do it without jeopardizing environmental laws," the chairwoman of the conference, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), said in a statement Tuesday.

"We were able to slash the lengthy and often duplicative environmental review process from an average of 15 years down to seven," Boxer's GOP counterpart, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), added, also in a written statement.

Lawmakers are reviewing the conference committee's report on the transportation bill, which was released early Thursday morning. They have until Saturday to approve the measure in both chambers of Congress before the scheduled expiration of the current funding for transportation projects.

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