Senate panel advances revival of conservation fund

Author: Marianne Goodland - October 2, 2018 - Updated: October 2, 2018

LWCFTourists encircle a “kiva” while touring the Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde National Park. The Cliff Palace is the largest cliff dwelling at Mesa Verde National Park in the southwest area of Colorado. (The Gazette/Jerilee Bennett)

Now that the Sept. 30 deadline has come and gone for renewal of the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), the Senate is taking another shot at finding a way to get the program back on track.

On Tuesday the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources amended a bill that would fully fund and permanently reauthorize the program. The bill, S. 569, is sponsored by Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington state and has 47 co-sponsors, including both of Colorado’s senators, Democrat Michael Bennet of Denver and Republican Cory Gardner of Yuma. The committee voted 16-7 to send the bill to the full Senate for consideration.

Among the major changes in the Cantwell bill: that the LWCF would no longer be subject to Congress’s appropriations process. In the past, that’s meant Congress has allowed the program to spend far less than what it receives from its funding source, primarily offshore oil and gas revenues. In the most recent appropriations bill, Congress allowed the LWCF about $450 million of the $900 million it could be putting into outdoor and recreation projects.

In Colorado, more than 1,000 outdoor and recreational projects have been awarded grants from the LWCF over its 60-year history. Total funding for the 1,030 projects is estimated by the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife at more than $147 million for state projects and a total of $268 million for state and federal projects.

Both Gardner and Cantwell are members of the energy committee that worked on the measure Tuesday.

The committee rejected amendments from Sen. Mike Lee, a Utah Republican, to renew the LWCF for only 10 years, as well as to tap some of the program’s funding for public lands maintenance. Gardner did not offer any amendments of his own.

In a statement, Gardner said, “I’ve been fighting to protect the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and today was an important step for the Senate to move out of committee a bipartisan measure that permanently reauthorizes this critical program for Colorado’s public lands. There is no excuse on why we can’t get this done, as there is a clear bipartisan consensus in both the House and Senate on the immense benefits of this crown jewel of conservation programs.”

The LWCF renewal has been tied up with other issues, including how to fund an $11 billion backlog of deferred maintenance at national parks. The committee also approved that measure, S. 3172, on Tuesday and sent it on to the full Senate, where both measures could become part of an overall package of legislation dealing with public lands.

Colorado’s share of that deferred national park maintenance is $238 million, according to Gardner’s office. That includes more than $84 million for Rocky Mountain National Park, $70 million for Mesa Verde and $27 million for Dinosaur National Monument.

The most likely version to come from the House is HR 502. The House Committee on Natural Resources passed that measure on Sept. 13. The bill has 238 co-sponsors, including five members of Colorado’s House delegation: Democratic Reps. Diana DeGette of Denver, Ed Perlmutter of Arvada and Jared Polis of Boulder, as well as Republican Reps. Mike Coffman of Aurora and Scott Tipton of Cortez.

It now awaits action from the full House.

Gardner also won approval from the energy committee Tuesday for several other measures, including:

  • the Amache Study Act, S. 2870. Under this measure, authored by Gardner and co-sponsored by Bennet, the secretary of the interior would conduct a study on the historical significance of Amache, the former Japanese American relocation center in Granada, near Colorado’s eastern border with Kansas, and determine whether the site should become part of the national park system.
  • the Pike National Historic Trail Study Act. Authored by Bennet and cosponsored by Gardner, this study would direct the National Park Service to study whether to make explorer Zebulon Pike’s route through the American Southwest a National Historic Trail.

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland is the chief legislative reporter for Colorado Politics. She's covered the Colorado General Assembly for 20 years, starting off in 1998 with the Silver & Gold Record, the editorially-independent newspaper at CU that was shuttered in 2009. She also writes for six rural newspapers in northeastern Colorado. Marianne specializes in rural issues, agriculture, water and, during election season, campaign finance. In her free time (ha!) she lives in Lakewood with her husband, Jeff; a cantankerous Shih-Tzu named Sophie; and Gunther the cat. She is also an award-winning professional harpist.