Federal lawmakers must ensure funds for LWCF continue

No federal program protecting natural areas and assisting local and state recreation projects has had the reach and the importance of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Thousands of individual initiatives– some possibly affecting you and your family directly — have been assisted by the LWCF.

Pennsylvania alone has benefitted greatly from the fund, receiving about $325 million in funding over the past five decades for places such as the Flight 93 National Memorial, Gettysburg National Military Park, Valley Forge National Historical Park, the Allegheny National Forest and the Appalachian National Scenic Trail.

Yet the fund, established by Congress in 1964, has lived a perilous existence. It is subject to periodic reauthorizations and annual hat-in-hand requests to keep the money flowing.

Earlier this year, Congress voted to reauthorize the LWCF. Now, however, the question of funding is up again.

In April, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, introduced a bill (S1081) to grant the fund at least some permanency. His measure, now with bipartisan support from 43 cosponsors, would ensure the program receives $900 million a year — without the need for annual battles over appropriations. Among the cosponsors is Pennsylvania’s Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr., a Democrat.

Now, U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, D-New Jersey, has introduced a similar measure (HR3195) in the House of Representatives. Already, it is up to 93 cosponsors, both Republican and Democrat. Three are from Pennsylvania: U.S. Rep. Brian K. Fitzpatrick, R-1st Congressional District; U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-8th District, and U.S. Rep. Madeleine Deane, D-4th District.

It is clear from the bipartisan nature of early support for both bills that this is not a Democrat vs. Republican issue. It is simply a matter of ensuring that a vitally important federal program remains not just in existence, but also funded adequately to do the important work in which it has engaged for more than half a century.

Still, politics being the messy activity that it is, even bills that are obviously important sometimes fall through the cracks or are held hostage to partisan bickering. That should not be allowed to happen with S1081 and HR3195. Lawmakers of both parties should ensure the bills are high on the agenda for action in the Senate and House of Representatives — and are enacted.