News & Events

Reports: LWCF Not Likely Considered in Lame Duck Session

Reports indicate it's increasingly unlikely that the LWCF reauthorization will be addressed before the current lame duck session of Congress adjourns in mid-December. Though the related bills cleared committees earlier this year in both the Senate and House, there doesn’t seem to be the necessary appetite to address it this late in the session as you will note in the three reports below. Appropriations appear to be the items most likely addressed. However, some continue to strive to have the proposed LWCF legislation heard … so it’s never give up … or maybe as Will Rogers once referenced, … Congress in session is as when a baby gets hold of a hammer — you never know the direction it will go.

PUBLIC LANDS Republicans object to House bipartisan LWCF bill Kellie Lunney, E&E News reporter Six House Natural Resources Committee Republicans have filed objections to legislation to permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which the GOP-led committee reported out in September. In addition to their concerns about approving the program on a permanent basis and the $900 million annual authorized spending level, dissenting Republicans want a more aggressive overhaul than the current pending legislation advocates. Dissenting views from the minority are not uncommon on majority-sponsored legislation reported out of committee but are not frequent among members of the same party. "While we support many aspects of LWCF, including increasing sportsmen's access and consolidating checkerboards of lands, we 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," wrote the GOP dissenters. Signers included Congressional Western Caucus Chairman Paul Gosar of Arizona; incoming Republican Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney of Wyoming; and Reps. Doug LaMalfa and Tom McClintock of California, Daniel Webster of Florida, and Louie Gohmert of Texas. Their wish list includes specific language limiting new federal land acquisition, a proposal to direct some LWCF revenues to the payment-in-lieu-of-taxes program and a provision ensuring private property rights are "properly protected." Similar unsuccessful amendments to the LWCF bill, H.R. 502, were offered during the September markup. The six lawmakers added that failure to include their reforms in a reauthorization of LWCF "may result in the loss of support from dissenting views signers and other colleagues in the House." It's unlikely the views of six Republicans are enough to make much difference to LWCF's already uncertain fate during the lame-duck session. Still, their opposition doesn't help. A broad constituency, from Republican mayors to major conservation groups, has steadily exerted pressure on Congress since the summer to reauthorize the program before certain provisions expired Sept. 30 (E&E Daily, Nov. 26). But a crowded lame-duck legislative agenda as well as two different LWCF bills circulating through Congress have imperiled the odds that lawmakers can muscle reauthorization over the finish line by year's end.

  1. 569, sponsored by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee's top Democrat, Maria Cantwell of Washington, would fully fund and permanently reauthorize LWCF.

Last week, the independent Congressional Budget Office released a report estimating the bill would raise the federal deficit by billions of dollars over a 10-year budget window (Greenwire, Nov. 21). H.R. 502 would permanently renew the program but does not address funding. Also, the House bill, the result of a carefully crafted deal between Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) and ranking member Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), 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. The six Republican dissenters took issue with the 40-40-20 split. The original 1965 law mandated a 60-40 percent divide between states and the federal government, respectively, but over the years the stateside allocation has fallen below that level, a situation that "has proven erroneous," the dissenters said. "State and local communities on the ground are in most instances better stewards of the taxpayer dollar than a faraway bureaucracy in Washington, D.C.," wrote the group. "The percentage of LWCF revenues allocated to stateside programs should be further increased." The members also objected to the LWCF bill being added to the September markup at the last minute, criticizing committee leadership for giving them "a little over 12 hours' notice" to review the bill's text and draft amendments (Greenwire, Sept. 13). "This deviation is all the more striking for being out of character for the committee," they said. "We request such breaches of protocol not be repeated." Murkowski: Finishing LWCF this year ‘challenging’ By Anthony Adragna 11/27/2018 11:25 AM EDT Senate Energy Chairman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said today that completing work on a permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund looked like a long shot this year since lawmakers had made no progress in addressing spending concerns. "It's challenging because of the offset," she told POLITICO. "Is it possible? Everything's possible." Ranking member Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) told reporters she was not giving up on getting her bill S. 569 (115) across the finish line this year, but acknowledged it might be easier to find support for mandatory spending in the Democratic-led House next year. She pointed out that many Republican senators support her bill with the spending included. "We'll have to team up those Republicans with the House members in the new Congress to really get the level of investment we want to see," Cantwell said. "I do think we're going to have more of a favorable environment," she added. "You'll have the majority in the House believing in investing in public lands." She summed up the state of play: "We just don't know what we can get out of [Speaker] Paul Ryan before he leaves." House lawmakers previously expressed optimism they can get something wrapped up before the end of the year. Their bill H.R. 502 (115) that cleared the House Natural Resources Committee did not include mandatory spending. PUBLIC LANDS CBO delivers bad news on Senate land and water bill Geof Koss and Jeremy Dillon, E&E News reporters Published: Wednesday, November 21, 2018" Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and ranking member Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) have been working on legislation to reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Backers of the bipartisan Senate bill that would permanently dedicate funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund must find more than $7 billion in spending-offsets to get the measure through the chamber, giving the House's competing version a boost in lame-duck negotiations to revive the expired program. The Congressional Budget Office yesterday confirmed what was long been assumed: The LWCF bill, S. 569, authored by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), will raise the federal deficit by billions over the 10-year budget window that the independent office uses to score legislation's deficit impact. Under pay-as-you-go (pay-go) budgeting rules, any bill that adds to the deficit within 10 years of enactment must be paid for by cutting spending elsewhere in the federal government or raising new revenue. The inclusion of mandatory spending in the Senate bill will cost the federal government $7.2 billion over 10 years, requiring offsets to cover that amount if the bill comes to the Senate floor. CBO's review also found that the Senate bill would raise the deficit by more than $5 billion in each of the four decades after 2029, although those funds do not have to be offset. Originally created in 1965, the LWCF is a politically popular program that has touched nearly every congressional district in some manner using funds derived from offshore oil and gas activities. The fund has a balance of about $22 billion that can still be used by appropriators to continue LWCF-related activities. Overhauling the LWCF has been a perennial concern for some Western conservative lawmakers. Those efforts caused the program to lapse for the second time in a five-year period on Sept. 30. The program previously lapsed in 2015, but was ultimately resolved with a three-year authorization patch in the year-end omnibus spending bill. While there's broad bipartisan support for permanently reauthorizing the LWCF, Cantwell's proposal to make funding for the program mandatory — largely removing it from the annual appropriations process — is opposed by key Senate Republicans. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who also chairs the Appropriations subcommittee that funds LWCF, doesn't support Cantwell's proposal, nor do Gulf Coast lawmakers, who fear that the bill could limit revenues from offshore oil and gas drilling that their states are entitled to under a 2006 law. Both programs are funded largely by federal oil and gas revenues from the Gulf of Mexico (E&E Daily, Nov. 13). Murkowski hinted at those budgetary concerns when her committee advanced the bill during the Oct. 2 markup, in which a collection of five Republican committee members and every Democrat voted together to move the Cantwell bill. "I want to figure out a way to get [to permanent reauthorization], but I have express concerns about the mandatory spending side of what has been offered today as the main bill from Sen. Cantwell," Murkowski said at the time. "I have a very serious reservation that with this bill, we provide for permanent mandatory funding without providing for an offset. That is something that we really haven't had the big discussion about." Murkowski and Cantwell included a permanent reauthorization in their broad energy policy bill that passed the Senate in 2016. That provision didn't contain mandatory spending. By contrast, the bipartisan House bill, H.R. 502, would permanently authorize the LWCF but continue to have appropriators determine annual spending. As a result, CBO found that bill would have no deficit impacts over 10 years. CBO's review of the Senate bill highlights an obscure but important budgetary quirk over LWCF. By statute, appropriators are authorized to spend up to $900 million annually on the program — in theory, a pay-for that is mostly provided by drilling revenues in the outer continental shelf. Some senators have argued that the Senate bill shouldn't trigger pay-go rules, given that there's already an existing funding source. But making that annual spending a mandatory function also ultimately adds to the deficit under CBO's scoring process, which is a perennial source of frustration for lawmakers. Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), who opposes Cantwell's bill, noted the budgeting issue last month. "It is a fig leaf of a pay-for, because you got to pay for the pay-for," he told E&E News last month. Lame-duck push CBO's score comes as LWCF backers on both sides of the Capitol are aiming to extend the program, which expired Sept. 30. Outside groups and key House and Senate lawmakers are pressing furiously for an extension, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) didn't list LWCF among the outstanding issues he wants to finish in the lame-duck session, which include appropriations and the farm bill. Additionally, Murkowski is pushing a broad public lands package that includes dozens of stand-alone bills. It's unclear whether that package could also include LWCF and separate bipartisan legislation that would provide billions to address the National Park Service's maintenance backlog. The parks bill also contains mandatory spending that will need to be offset. Cantwell told E&E News before the Thanksgiving recess that she expects LWCF will be extended either in the lame duck or early in the next Congress.

Rich Innes Senior Fellow, Meridian Institute