Chairman Gosar Statement on the Passage of Reckless Mandatory LWCF Spending

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Washington, June 19, 2019 | Ben Goldey | comments
Western Caucus Chairman Paul Gosar (AZ-04) released the following statement in response to House Committee on Natural Resources Democratic Members reckless passage of H.R. 3195, the Land and Water Conservation Fund Permanent Funding Act.
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Today, Western Caucus Chairman Paul Gosar (AZ-04) released the following statement in response to House Committee on Natural Resources Democratic Members reckless passage of H.R. 3195, the Land and Water Conservation Fund Permanent Funding Act:

Congressional Western Caucus Chairman Paul Gosar (AZ-04):
"For far too long, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has been hijacked by extremist environmentalists to grow the federal estate and lockup more and more land, at the expense of proper land and asset management. There is no good reason that $11.4 billion of the $18.9 billion spent on this program has gone towards federal land acquisition. Furthermore, it is shameful that state programs have only received $4.8 billion, when the original law intended for 60 percent of LWCF monies to go to states and 40 percent to go to the feds. At a time when House Democrats are pushing radical ideas like the Green New Deal and offshore moratoriums in order to put the oil and gas industry out of business, it is ironic that they are also sticking their hand out and demanding $900 million in mandatory LWCF spending when the sole revenue generator for this program over the last 30 years is offshore oil and gas leasing. House Democratic Members should be ashamed for pushing this bill through on party lines without even holding a hearing. The last thing we should do is put this program on autopilot and mandate $900 million a year come from the Treasury without Congressional oversight. LWCF should be reformed to ensure it isn’t further abused as a land grab tool and should return to its primary purpose of seeking to increase sportsmen and outdoor recreation access."

Background:
Today, House Committee on Natural Resources Democratic Members recklessly passed H.R. 3195 by a partisan vote. The bill would mandate that permanent mandatory spending of $900 million per year come from an account in the treasury for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). Congressional Western Caucus Chairman Paul Gosar (AZ-04) and House Committee on Natural Resources Republican Leader Rob Bishop (UT-01) both strongly oppose the bill.The Committee failed to hold a hearing on H.R. 3195 prior to passage and failed to receive testimony from experts on both sides of this issue.

At the Committee Markup, Members of the Western Caucus introduced numerous amendments to reform broken aspects of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Even reasonable amendments were rejected on party lines.  

From the origin of the LWCF in fiscal year 1965 until fiscal year 1998, the discretionary total seldom reached $400 million, surpassing this level only four times. In fiscal year 1999, LWCF received $0. The average amount appropriated into law for LWCF for the last 15 fiscal years is approximately $360 million.

The Congressional Research Service (CRS) reports that out of the $18.9 billion appropriated through fiscal year 2018 for LWCF, a staggering $11.4 billion has been appropriated for new federal land acquisition. The state grant program has only received $4.8 billion, even though the original 1965 law ensured 60 percent of LWCF money went to states and 40 percent went to the federal government. 

“It turns out that the 60-40 split was not very controversial in the mid-1970s, according to an E&E Daily review of roughly a dozen hearing transcripts, committee reports, floor debates and conference reports. In fact, the original funding formula was endorsed by Democratic-led committees in both chambers, as well as the Sierra Club.” Moving away from the initial 60-40 formula when LWCF was initially reauthorized has proven to be erroneous. Further, states and local communities on the ground are in most instances better stewards of the taxpayer dollar than a far way bureaucracy in Washington, D.C. Accordingly, the percentage of LWCF revenues allocated to stateside programs should be further increased.      

The LWCF Act of 1965 was enacted to help preserve, develop and ensure access to outdoor recreation. While Members of the Western Caucus support many aspects of LWCF, including increasing sportsmen’s access and consolidating checkerboards of land, Members have become frustrated over the years that extremist groups have hijacked parts of LWCF to lockup more land and water and prohibit such properties from multiple-use.

According to CRS, the federal government now owns nearly 640 million acres of land and water. As massive as those federal estate figures are, they don’t include all of the acreage designated as national monuments. Over the past century, Presidents have utilized the Antiquities Act 233 times to designate 840 million acres of land and water as national monuments. The Obama Administration alone locked up more than 553 million acres of land and water through the Antiquities Act. The fact that the federal government owns more than 45% of the land in 11 Western States presents major challenges for the people living in and around the federally-controlled land.

LWCF funds have been used for at least six controversial eminent domain projects.  LWCF needs to be reformed to ensure private property rights are properly protected. Accordingly, LWCF dollars utilized for non-federal lands should be used for easements and to purchase property from willing sellers, not to cease private property through eminent domain.

 Under the LWCF law, the fund is credited with receiving revenues totaling $900 million each year. According to CRS, the revenues come from three sources: (1) surplus federal property sales, (2) the federal motorboat fuel tax, and (3) revenues from oil and gas leases on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). Over the last 30 years, nearly all revenues deposited in the LWCF have been from Outer Continental Shelf oil and gas receipts.

H.R. 3195 does not include an offset and would have a massive budget score and cost to taxpayers as current law does not provide the legal authority to spend the monies in the fund and these funds have to be appropriated by Congress. Further, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid all receive mandatory spending and mandatory LWCF funds would have to come from that already unsustainable pie if H.R. 3195 is enacted.  

There was much discussion during the markup as well about Democratic Members wanting to have their cake and eat it too as also debated at the markup as were two bills, H.R. 205 and H.R. 1941, two pieces of legislation that seek to permanently ban offshore oil and gas leasing, the very activities that generate $900 million each year that is credited to the LWCF account.

On March 12, 2019, S.47, the John D. Dingell, Jr., Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act, permanently reauthorized LWCF. However, Congress left the funding levels as discretionary and subject to the oversight of Congress. That is the way the fund has functioned since its creation in 1965 and it has never been mandatory. It is extremely greedy to come back and push H.R. 3195 and attempt to double money for the program when S.47 was just signed into law earlier this year. 

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