Now that the U.S. Senate has reauthorized the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which has delivered nearly $300 million to South Carolina for land conservation and outdoor recreation over the past 50 years, the House needs to summon a similar bipartisan effort and follow suit.
The LWCF, established in 1964 and funded through offshore oil and gas leases, was allowed to lapse Sept. 30 but revived as part of a large public lands act that would protect millions of acres, 620 miles of rivers and establish four new national monuments, including the Mississippi home of civil rights icon Medgar Evers and a Civil War battlefield in Kentucky.
In South Carolina across all 46 counties, the LWCF has helped conserve public lands and historic sites, including Fort Sumter, and provided critical matching funds for scores of local and state conservation and recreation projects. They include the Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge, Congaree National Park in Columbia, Falls Park in downtown Greenville and more than 20 parks in Charleston, including Waterfront Park. It’s an invaluable resource.
The LWCF augments local efforts such as the Charleston County Greenbelt Program and aids conservation groups such as the Open Space Institute, which recently secured 328 acres along Timothy Creek between the Volvo plant and Four Holes Swamp.
The protection of public lands also lends crucial support to South Carolina forestry programs and the state’s thriving 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.
Tuesday’s 92-8 Senate vote demonstrates the potential for Congress to work across party lines and, though the overall package could be whittled down in the House, the LWCF certainly should be reauthorized — and fully funded. It comes at no cost to taxpayers and provides funds for the expansion of public lands. The House will vote on the overall package after its mid-February recess.
The public lands director of Environment America, a Denver-based coalition of state environmental groups, welcomed the Senate action, but sounded a troubling note of caution. The LCWF lost out on more than $300 million since the program lapsed, and the Senate bill does not fully fund LCWF at $900 million per year like the original bill.
“The Senate took a big step,” Erik DuMont said. “Now the House must act. We’re confident it will, but not so confident that we’ll stop pushing until the program is reauthorized with full funding.”
In light of expanded offshore leasing under the Trump administration, the LCWF should be fully funded at previous levels. And because offshore resources are essentially a public asset, it’s only fair to use funds flowing from oil leases for the public good.
Over its previous lifetime, the LCWF disbursed more than $10 billion nationwide for conserving about 5 million acres that has expanded national parks and other public lands. Imagine what could be done for succeeding generations over the next 50 years.
The House must keep the LCWF intact and ensure it is fully funded before the legislation reaches the president’s desk.