Public Lands Funding Bill Looking For The Right ‘Vehicle’

Published: Monday, December 2, 2019 - 6:28pm
Updated: Tuesday, December 3, 2019 - 8:36am

Congress is trying to finish appropriating money for the budget, including money for a public lands fund. Land conservationists, however, are looking beyond the annual budget line.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) allows federal, state or local government agencies to buy land — land that could become a public park or golf course or part of a national forest. Most of the money comes from oil and gas leases. At the moment, Congress has to appropriate the money each year. 

Supporters of the fund, like hunting and fishing groups, want that to change to a steady, permanent appropriation. 

“There is broad, bipartisan support, both House and the Senate, for full, permanent dedicated funding,” said Corey Fisher, public land policy director of the conservation group Trout Unlimited. “And it's just a matter of can some of the unrelated political noise in Washington, D.C., be set aside long enough to actually pass that bill.”

Committees in the House and Senate have passed permanent funding, to the tune of about $900 million. Fisher said the full chambers are more likely to follow suit if it's part of a larger collection of bills related to energy and public lands. That exact legislative vehicle is still unclear. 

At the same time, House and Senate appropriators are haggling over how much to dedicate to the LWCF for the current fiscal year. If the budget appropriations bills pass before the permanent funding bill, the amount designated for the land fund in FY20 would likely be between $400 million and $600 million.

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