Tester, Daines urge Senate leaders to make sure LWCF is funded

by Vince Devlin

Montana’s two U.S. senators are among 14 from both parties who on Wednesday called for Senate leaders to permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund by attaching mandatory funding to one of the bills Congress must pass before the end of this session.

Democrat Jon Tester and Republican Steve Daines both signed the letter to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Harry Reid. The letter calls the LWCF “America’s most successful conservation program.”

The fund, paid for by offshore oil and gas royalties, expired Oct. 1.

“For the economy, sportsmen, veterans, wildlife, and our kids and grandkids, we must permanently reauthorize LWCF,” Tester, Daines and another dozen senators said in the letter. “We also strongly suggest that you include mandatory full funding in any must-pass year-end legislation.”

Seven Republicans and seven Democrats signed the letter, including U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.

In addition to Montana’s, both senators from Colorado, New Hampshire and New Mexico co-signed the letter to McConnell and Reid.

Created by Congress in 1965, the fund uses revenues from offshore oil and gas to support conservation of land and water. It amounts to $900 million a year, although Congress regularly diverts much of it to other purposes.

Over the last several years, Congress has appropriated only about one-third of the lease money available for LWCF.

Almost $17 billion in offshore oil and gas royalties have been distributed over the last half century. Montana has received $540 million in that time, and most recently used LWCF funds to protect more than 8,000 acres of elk habitat in Meagher County.

Republicans who are critical of LWCF, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah, did not pass a reauthorization bill through the Natural Resource Committees they chair.

They say the fund adds public lands at a time when the government can’t afford to maintain what’s already in place, and want more of the money to go to local and state projects rather than federal ones.

Funding for LWCF then got caught up in the issue of whether to defund Planned Parenthood.