CONSERVATION: Sen. Barrasso floats LWCF bill to revive state grants
Phil Taylor, E&E reporter
Published: Friday, November 20, 2015

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) today unveiled a new bill that would reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund for a decade and require that significantly more money go to states.

Barrasso's bill would require 60 percent of money appropriated under LWCF to support state grants -- which fund projects like ballfields, river trails and parks -- with the remaining 40 percent going to federal purposes, including land acquisition (link to bill:

The bill would restore the original funding formula from when LWCF was passed into law in 1964. It was amended in 1976 to require that 40 percent of the funds go to federal land acquisitions, with appropriators deciding how to allocate the rest.

The Barrasso bill reflects Republican efforts in both chambers to give states more control over how LWCF money is used.

"Over the years, the program funding shifted from being locally focused to being primarily Washington focused," Barrasso said in a statement. "It's time to return the LWCF back to its original intent of strengthening 'the health and vitality' of U.S. citizens."

Domenic Bravo, president of the National Association of State Park Directors, praised Barrasso's bill, which he said "places an emphasis on close-to-home recreation, where people can get outside and get healthy."

If passed, the bill could cut deeply into federal land acquisitions, which have represented roughly half of LWCF expenditures over the past decade. A significant portion of LWCF money also goes to Forest Legacy, a program that supports conservation easements of private forestlands, and endangered species grants.

In its history, about 62 percent of LWCF money has been used on federal land acquisition, about 25 percent has gone to stateside grants, and the rest has funded "other purposes," including easements and wildlife grants.

It is unclear how Barrasso's bill will fare in the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, the panel to which it was referred. The committee yesterday passed by voice vote a sportsmen's package that contains a deal to permanently reauthorize LWCF that was brokered over the summer by Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and ranking member Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.).

That deal carries broad bipartisan support in both chambers and is backed by powerful conservation interests, though it has encountered pushback from state grant advocates.

The thrust of Barrasso's bill is similar to a draft package by House Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah), which would require that 45 percent of LWCF funding go to stateside grants. Bishop's bill also would restrict federal land acquisitions to no more than 3.5 percent of LWCF funding and allow significant funds to be used for oil and gas development and county payments.

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