Guest editorial: Reinstate land conservation grants
December 4, 2015
Finding a vulnerability in enthusiasm for the federal government’s Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), Utah’s Republican First District Congressman Rob Bishop is using it to further the state’s conservatively instigated campaign against federal land laws and policies. But, as House Natural Resources Committee chairman, he is punishing the entire United States land conversation effort, arbitrarily shutting off the fund’s annual $300 to $900 million spigot.
The flow was stopped in September when Bishop prevented a pro forma committee reauthorization for the 50-year-old program financing open land acquisition, improvement and preservation, using non-tax money.
Utah counties have received $46,092,453 in grants from the LWCF; Summit, Wasatch, Morgan and Rich Counties in the Wasatch back, a total of $3,132,339. The 50-50 match from the LWCF has been used in Summit County for the Coalville City Park, Henefer Memorial Park, Henefer tennis courts, Oakley Park, Kamas City Park, Park City Park and Park City Golf Course; in Wasatch County for Wasatch Mountain State Park, Midway City Park, Soldier Hollow, Heber City Main St. Park, Wasatch County Recreation Area, Deer Creek State Park; in Morgan County, East Canyon State Park and Milton tennis courts; in Rich County, Laketown City Park and Rich County Park. Another $126 million has been devoted to conservation on federal lands within the state. During its lifetime, the fund has distributed $4.5 billion nationwide. No more such assistance will be forthcoming until Rep. Bishop’s impoundment of the LWCF gets lifted.
Aware that various elements now compete for LWCF participation, the congressman identified with fund critics, who, among other complaints, label the fund simply another federal land-grab. Accommodating that debatable notion, he has effectively halted routine dispersal of available LWCF money, derived from a share of payments made to the federal government by companies drilling off-shore for oil and gas.
Defending his maneuver by claiming he will submit legislation restoring an intended fund distribution balance is thin justification for unilaterally depriving a critical and popular land conservation effort. In fact, the congressman’s heralded substitute law only recently received a draft hearing, Nov. 18, during which the contending factions either defended reauthorization or endorsed revisions of the customarily renewed fund allocations.
Principal among the complaints, that apportionment from the LWCF going to states has fallen from 25 to 12 percent, probably does rate discussion envisioning a fair and balanced resolution. Which could be managed with a common statute amendment. None of the hearing testimony advocated, instead, summarily defunding a mandate that witnesses uniformly acknowledged does far more good than harm.
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Rep. Bishop’s characterization of those endorsing simple fund reauthorization as "liars and cheaters" and his defiant vow that "ultimately the law will be reformed," nonetheless discloses an adamantly occupied position. In other words, no fund payouts until and unless his version of a new LWCF is enacted.
Essentially, this impasse is a sad commentary on the nation’s legislative style — exploiting rather than mediating conflict, issuing ultimatums instead of tactfully compromising, disdainful insults replacing reasonable discourse, provincialism imposed on established commitment to national purpose. Small wonder polls find Americans generally have a low opinion of Congress, its leadership and membership performance.
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