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ICYMI: Mandatory LWCF Spending Would 'Blow' Up Bill — Bishop

WASHINGTON, D.C., September 27, 2018 | Committee Press Office (202-225-2761)

By Kellie Lunney

E&E News

If the Senate moves to require mandatory annual spending for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, it could tank the carefully crafted bipartisan House reauthorization deal, Utah Republican Rep. Rob Bishop said.

"That would probably blow it up in the House if you did that," the Natural Resources Committee chairman told reporters yesterday.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee expects to mark up a bill Tuesday to reauthorize LWCF, which expires Sunday. But that legislation could look different from the measure pending in the House.

One proposal under consideration in the Senate, S. 569 from Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), would permanently authorize and fully fund the program. It has 47 co-sponsors, including six Republicans.

Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) yesterday did not say which bill the panel would take up or whether it would contain language permanently authorizing and fully funding LWCF.

"We'll see," she said. "It's not one [a bill] that I'm putting forward." When asked whether it could be the Cantwell bill, Murkowski said, "Quite possibly."

Bishop worked with his panel's top Democrat, Raúl Grijalva of Arizona, to advance a measure, H.R. 502, through committee last week that would permanently reauthorize LWCF, over the objections of several Republicans.

"Philosophically, I don't think anything should be permanently authorized either," Bishop said. "But I'm willing to do it if we can get the other reforms that I want through there."

The Bishop-Grijalva measure does not contain language mandating full funding. House leadership has not yet scheduled a floor vote on the bill.

H.R. 502 would allocate 40 percent of money to the fund's stateside program, 40 percent to the federal government and 20 percent for other necessary activities that could include deferred maintenance needs, for example.

Another provision would set aside 3 percent for recreation access, requiring the Interior secretary to put together a list of priority projects.

LWCF uses revenue from offshore oil and gas drilling primarily to preserve and maintain the nation's parks, forests, recreation areas and cultural sites.

It's a favorite of many members of Congress because it's a program that doesn't use taxpayer dollars and is popular with constituents across the country.

The authorized funding level is $900 million, but it's hardly ever been funded at that level; its annual appropriations in recent years have typically been about half that.

Requiring Congress to fully fund the program at the authorized level each year would be "justifiably hard to do," Bishop said.

"There is no offset for it, which is another reason why I always put percentages in my bills, not dollar numbers," the Republican said. "If you put a dollar number in there that's higher than anything we already have, the CBO [Congressional Budget Office] plays games with it. Percentages, then it's subject to appropriations."

The Utah Republican said he envisions Congress getting LWCF done this year, most likely in the lame-duck session and as part of a broader bipartisan public lands package.