News & Events

LWCF ... Reauth. Push Continues During Lame Duck Session


Bishop aims to have LWCF deal ‘tied up’ early next week

Lawmakers are “amazingly close” to a deal that would permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund before the end of the year, the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee said last night. “I expect it to happen … and when I am optimistic about something, you realize, that is a unique situation,” said Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), who met yesterday afternoon with panel ranking member Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Senate counterparts, Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and ranking member Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), to discuss the fate of LWCF and an end-of-the-year public lands package. “All four of us sat there and told the staff we want to have a deal and gave them the marching orders to make sure everything is finalized,” Bishop said, adding that he plans to meet with the three lawmakers again soon and hopes to have “everything tied up” by the beginning of next week. Bishop expects LWCF to be included in a broader public lands package that could be a stand-alone bill or part of another legislative vehicle, such as the year-end spending package that Congress needs to pass by midnight Dec. 7 to avoid a partial government shutdown. However, Bishop said that it would be “impossible” to retain language in the Senate version of the LWCF bill that calls for full funding of the program — something that many LWCF advocates have lobbied hard for (Greenwire, Oct. 2).

Bishop said if the mandatory spending stays in the final version, “I cannot find the offset, there is no way of doing it, that makes everything dead. That’s the bottom line.” The Senate bill would provide dedicated annual funding at the authorized $900 million level for the popular program. Last week, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that backers of the Senate bill would have to find more than $7 billion in spending offsets to get the measure through the chamber (Greenwire, Nov. 21). Bishop and Grijalva carefully negotiated their bill, which the committee reported out in September. That bill would permanently reauthorize and reform the program but does not address funding (Greenwire, Sept. 13). Congress let the program lapse Sept. 30, the second time that has happened in the past three years. Bishop said securing permanent reauthorization of the program was a “win” for Democrats and other LWCF supporters. “I’m excited about the reforms,” he said. “That’s a win for me.” The House bill would allocate 40 percent of the fund’s money to its state-side program, 40 percent to the federal government and 20 percent for other necessary activities that could include deferred maintenance needs. Bishop said he talked to GOP leadership this week about LWCF and the public lands package. “They haven’t told me anything yet. They patted me on the head and told me to go home,” he cracked.


The meeting of House and Senate natural resources committee leadership came just hours after Republican and Democratic members gathered outside the Capitol on a chilly morning to fire up LWCF supporters. They assured the advocates they would press their colleagues to get the program across the finish line before the end of the year. “Nothing could be more important on the agenda for this lame-duck session,” said Cantwell. “It’s time that Congress not go into 2019 with a big question mark around such an important asset for growing our economy.” “We’re trying every angle,” Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) told reporters after the press conference, adding that he planned to talk to Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) later in the day “about our efforts” to permanently reauthorize and fully fund the program. “We’ve got to make progress on this. It amazes me; sometimes Washington, D.C., is the only place in the world where the more people agree on something, the less likely it is to happen,” Gardner said. “And that’s what pisses people off about Washington.” A national poll conducted this week for the National Wildlife Federation by Public Policy Polling found 74 percent of respondents supported LWCF reauthorization and funding. The survey, which included 662 registered voters, also found that 63 percent of voters “would feel more favorably” about their member of Congress if he or she voted to renew LWCF. Nearly half of the survey’s participants (48 percent) reported they would feel “less favorably” about their representative if he or she voted for reauthorization of LWCF but not funding. “This is a no-brainer, folks,” Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) said during yesterday’s Capitol Hill press conference on fully funding and permanently reauthorizing LWCF.

“The fact that we are here having to discuss this is absurd.” “Why are we holding this up right now? I have no clue,” said Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), a member of the House Natural Resources Committee. But permanent reauthorization in both bills, as well as the mandatory funding component in the Senate legislation, is a sticking point for some House and Senate Republicans (E&E News PM, Sept. 27). “You’re talking about $900 million with LWCF,” Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.) said last month in an interview with E&E News. Graves has said he supports a long-term reauthorization of LWCF but isn’t a fan of the House bill that the committee reported out in September. “I think it’s going to be pretty difficult to get something like this done without bringing some revenues to the table,” he said. “So, is there a deal in there? Yeah, I think that there is. But I do think it’s going to take some structural renovations to the LWCF bill before you get there.” But Gardner yesterday dismissed the idea that LWCF faces roadblocks. “Here’s the thing: I don’t think it has that many obstacles,” the Republican said. “If we can get this thing to the floor for a vote, there’s overwhelming support. It has more than 60 votes in the Senate. It has majority support in the House.”

Parks maintenance bill

One major piece of legislation that Bishop does not expect to be in a public lands package this year is a bipartisan, bicameral bill to create a $6.5 billion fund to improve maintenance at national parks. It’s a heavy lift because budgeting rules require the measures to be offset with either revenue increases or cuts in federal spending elsewhere. The Congressional Budget Office in October estimated the Senate bill would increase spending by $6.4 billion over the next decade. “They scored it at $7 billion, and that provides a major problem, and I don’t know how to overcome that,” said Bishop. “Their score is abominable.” Bishop, however, said he thinks Republicans and Democrats will work together next year on pushing something through Congress that provides much-needed funding to clear up massive maintenance backlogs at national parks. The Trump administration also supports the legislation. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), a sponsor of the parks bill in the upper chamber, said earlier yesterday it was “a matter of will” as to whether the legislation moves during the lame-duck session. “There’s a possibility of it, but it kind of depends on if the House stays in.”

Kellie Lunney, E&E News reporter

Published: Friday, November 30, 2018

Reporter Jeremy Dillon contributed.