Tuesday was a good day for conservation and the environment. President Donald Trump has an opportunity to make it even better.
Nearly five months after Congress allowed the critical Land and Water Conservation Fund to expire, the House followed the Senate and permanently reauthorized the fund as part of a massive public lands bill. President Trump should sign the bipartisan measure into law as soon as possible.
In South Carolina, the fund is an important supplement to land conservation and outdoor recreation efforts. The fund has contributed almost $300 million to the state over the past 50 years.
Losing support of that magnitude would be a terrible blow to South Carolina, where the fund has aided land and historic site projects in all 46 counties. Among those are Fort Sumter and more than 20 parks in Charleston, including Waterfront Park, as well as Congaree National Park in Columbia, Falls Park in downtown Greenville, and Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge in Horry, Georgetown and Marion counties.
It also assists such vital local projects as the Charleston County Greenbelt Program and helps conservation groups such as the Open Space Institute, which recently gained protections for 328 acres along Timothy Creek between the Volvo plant and Four Holes Swamp.
“The Land and Water Conservation Fund has had an enormous influence on our communities and quality of life. On any given day, you can see folks kayaking, fishing, picnicking, listening to live music or even just going for a walk in parks that help define our communities,” John Tynan, executive director of Conservation Voters of South Carolina, said in a news release. “We are grateful that Congress voted to permanently reauthorize this crucial program so our residents continue to enjoy the health, wellness, and community benefits of our cherished public spaces.”
One of the best features of the fund is that it does not rely on tax dollars, a critical point as the country struggles with how to address its soaring $22 trillion debt. Instead, it gets a share of royalties from offshore oil and gas leases.
South Carolina forestry programs also benefit from the fund as does the state’s outdoor recreation industry, which supports about 151,000 jobs, $4.6 billion in annual wages and $1.1 billion in local and state taxes, according to the advocacy group Save LWCF.
Congress foolishly allowed the fund to lapse on Sept. 30, 2018, but it was brought back to life in the huge lands bill. Some critics of the fund were appeased when it was revised to give states and local governments a larger percentage of the money.
In these heated partisan times, it was heartening to see lawmakers from both parties unite in protecting the environment.
“The iconic Land and Water Conservation Fund is imperative for making sure our children and grandchildren have access to fresh water, clean air and the landscapes and resources we enjoy today,” Kim Elliman, the president and CEO of Open Space Institute, said in a statement. “We commend the U.S. representatives who voted in support of the bill, and all the people who have worked to save this critical program affecting so many American lives.”
Indeed, Tuesday was a good day for celebrating conservation and the environment, which means it was a great day for all of us. Mr. Trump should cap the triumph by signing the bill.