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By Brian Dabbs
Dec. 1 — Negotiations continue over Land and Water Conservation Fund provisions in energy legislation, and headway toward an overhaul compromise may be in the pipeline, key lawmakers told Bloomberg BNA Dec. 1.
House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) is continuing to push for an overhaul of federal land acquisition spending, stressing the need to hone focus on the federal property maintenance backlog.
That has been a sticking point between him and environmental groups, who have a Capitol Hill ally in Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), but Bishop signaled recent talks have been productive.
“There was progress, I think, on their part towards what we’re talking about here,” he said, referring to Cantwell and Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). “Whether it’s enough to be acceptable to me I don’t know.”
The fund, which provides state assistance grants for conservation development on top of federal acquisitions, is a critical portion of high-profile energy legislation negotiations. Proponents say the fund, which is derived from offshore energy development revenue, plays an important role in preserving the environment.
Two different versions of that legislation (S. 2012) passed the House and Senate earlier this year, and both included Land and Water Conservation Fund reauthorization. Yet a recent House proposal stripped that authorization provision.
The legislation includes expedited export provisions for liquefied natural gas exports, as well as a range of energy efficiency initiatives. Murkowski and Cantwell have pushed strenuously for a compromise this session, which is scheduled to wrap up in roughly a week.
Cantwell said the provisions would help to boost the outdoor economy, which she described as a “juggernaut” growing at breakneck speeds with potential serious benefits for state revenue.
“So I think there was a lot more coming together on the fact that we want all of these areas, whether they are parks and existing structures or new adds on [or] adjacencies to continue to help us grow that outdoor economy,” she told Bloomberg BNA, adding that her staff was set to meet with Bishop’s the evening of Dec. 1, following a meeting the day before.
Bishop prefers to eliminate the use of the fund for acquisition through eminent domain and condemnation among other directives, which were capture in a bill he introduced in 2015. The legislation also would carve out spending for land maintenance and operations.
House Natural Resources ranking member Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) told Bloomberg BNA he’d struggle to support those changes, arguing they are intended to replace lost appropriations at the Interior Department.
“We oppose that. We don’t want to lose any of its original function, its original purpose,” Grijalva said. The Interior Department is tasked with that maintenance, he said.
Meanwhile, the energy legislation includes a new fund, dubbed the National Park Service Maintenance and Revitalization Conservation Fund. That repository, which also would draw revenue from offshore production, would pay for “high-priority deferred maintenance needs of the [National Park Service] that support critical infrastructure and visitor services.” None of those funds would be used for acquisition, according to the bill.
Still, Bishop said more changes are necessary, noting that he doesn’t care about the length of Land and Water Conservation Fund authorization.
“Right now it is a very wasted, corrupt, useless program,” he told Bloomberg BNA. “If you make it so it actually solves some of the problems and gives us revenue streams to actually deal with these issues, this could be the coolest problem in the history of the world.”
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