Energy & Environment

Biden administration reverses Trump changes it says ‘undermined’ conservation program

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The Biden administration is reversing course on changes the Trump administration made to the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), arguing the changes “undermined” the program.

Acting Interior Secretary Scott de la Vega in an order issued Thursday revoked an order by then-Secretary David Bernhardt that required a “written expression of support” for land acquired through the LWCF from both governors and local governments, effectively allowing these officials to veto any land purchases. 

De la Vega’s order also reversed course on a separate action that shifted money away from an LWCF grant program that benefits urban areas, a move that critics said took resources from low-income communities and communities of color. 

“Interior’s actions today affirm our support for one of America’s most successful and popular conservation programs,” Shannon Estenoz, a principal deputy assistant secretary at the Interior Department, said in a statement on the new order.

“We look forward to further strengthening this successful program to ensure that all communities — from hikers and sportsmen to urban and underserved communities — have access to nature and the great outdoors,” Estenoz added. 

A statement issued by the department characterized Bernhardt’s changes as having “significantly undermined” the LWCF, which provides funding for the acquisition of new federal lands and waters and also gives grants to states and localities for the development of outdoor recreation areas. 

Bernhardt said in a statement when he issued the order requiring written support from state and local officials in November that it would “ensure land acquisitions will increase recreation opportunities, enhance conservation benefits and provide flexibility to our partners in states and local communities to ensure this investment is managed and allocated in the best possible manner.”

The Trump administration had initially proposed cuts to the LWCF but later reversed course to support its full funding amid a push from Republican lawmakers who were up for reelection. 

Then-President Trump in 2020 signed bipartisan legislation that permanently provided $900 million in funding for it. 

Conservation groups on Thursday cheered the reversal of Bernhardt’s moves.

“After the president flip-flopped on LWCF in a futile attempt to help Cory Gardner, Bernhardt tried to make an end-run around Congress,” said Aaron Weiss, the deputy director of the Center for Western Priorities, in a statement. “Repealing Bernhardt’s order gives the Biden administration room to properly spend LWCF funds, and make sure it continues to be America’s most successful conservation program.”

Tags Conservation Cory Gardner Donald Trump Interior Department Land and Water Conservation Fund

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