Senator Lankford Offers Amendment to Reform Land and Water Conservation Fund
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WASHINGTON, DC– Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today delivered a speech on the Senate floor on the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2016 and his amendment (#3210) to reform the broken Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). Specifically, the amendment would require spending on land acquisition to not exceed spending on maintenance; require that land acquisitions funded through the LWCF include funding for maintenance needs on the land to be acquired; and require Congressional authorization for acquisitions under LWCF that cost more than $50,000 per acre.
There are a lot of good things in this bill that we’re discussing. A lot of good amendments that have been brought to the floor. There’s been an awful lot of conversation over the past year about a program called the Land and Water Conservation fund. It’s a straightforward program. It’s been around for a long time. It takes money from revenue from offshore oil drilling and uses that money to purchase up land usually next to a national park or other areas that become federal land. The problem is over the decades, we continue to accumulate more money in the land and water conservation fund and we continue to accumulate more land into the federal roll but we’re not taking care of what we have.
The issue with this particular version of the Land and Water Conservation Fund is it’s not a short-term extension like it’s always been in the past. It’s a permanent program that’s put into place. Permanent meaning there are no changes. So permanently we put in a structure that continues to purchase federal lands without maintaining those lands. We all know it. We all see it. Year after year everyone said we should add more to maintenance but year after year we actually just buy more land using the conservation fund and never use other budget funds for maintenance because quite frankly there are a lot of other vital federal issues that need to be paid for.
So the simple solution to this is take the money from the Land and Water Conservation Fund and make sure that one simple thing is done. When we purchase land, we also maintain that land with that funding. We also take care of the backlog. This amendment’s very straightforward that we use 50 percent to purchase land, 50 percent to maintain land until at least we get down to a $1 billion backlog. And then we can consider $1 billion backlog is the goal. And in some ways this has become controversial, which I can’t believe it would be controversial to say let’s try to work our nation down to only $1 billion backlog in our maintenance for all of our federal facilities.
Now we have record attendance at our national parks, and they are beautiful national treasures. But if we can’t maintain them, then we reinforce what is already true: that the federal government is the largest landowner, largest land controller and the worst landowner in the country. Federal lands are maintained the least of any other large holder of land. Let’s fix it. This doesn’t take away the Land and Water Conservation Fund. This makes sure that we take care of what we have. And it also answers one simple question. When we purchase land and bring it in, we make sure that we set aside money at that moment also make sure we can fix it. Quite frankly, it’s fairly straightforward.
Mr. President, today my daughter turned 16 years old. She will at some point get a used car. I’m sure it will be a doozy, we’re thinking somewhere around a 1978 Volvo, nice and tough, indestructible. At some point she’ll end up with a used car. But the requirements for her in that used car, she has to be a part of the purchase of it. When we buy that car we’re not going to use everything in our savings account nor allow her to use everything in her savings account to buy it. She has to have enough money to be able to put gas in it and to be able to maintain it when it breaks down because it’s a car, it will break down.
This change in the Land and Water Conservation Fund is no more simple than that. Whenever we put new land in the inventory, we make sure that we have money set aside to make sure we can actually take care of it. Why have a car if you can’t put gas in it. Why continue to add land year after year after year if we’re not going to maintain it? That’s not good stewardship of our resources. That’s bad stewardship of our resources. This amendment says before we make this program permanent, let’s fix the structure of this program to make sure that we’re also watching out for the program long-term as well.
One other quick note…. some of the land that has been purchased has been purchased for very high amounts like $1 million an acre type amounts. This puts a simple block in it to say before you get a purchase of a land more than $50,000 an acre, run that back through Congress to make sure someone has had a second look at that. It is a straightforward thing to make sure the federal taxpayer is not paying more than they should per acre for land that will be put in the federal inventory. I would urge the adoption of this amendment. This doesn’t kill the program. This enhances the program. It allows us to take better care of our federal land and to engage with that. With that, Mr. President, I would yield the floor.