Since being passed with bipartisan support in 1964, the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) has invested millions of dollars in natural spaces all over the United States. Here in Western Pennsylvania, the fund has been responsible for building and protecting the Allegheny National Forest, the Flight 93 memorial and dozens of Pittsburgh city parks at no cost to taxpayers.
And without Congressional action, the Land and Water Conservation Fund will expire this Sunday, Sept. 30.
Local and state officials, as well as environmental groups, are pushing Congress to act. While both Republican and Democratic members of the Senate have signaled support for permanently reauthorizing the fund, a similar bill has stalled in the House of Representatives.
In a statement released to the media, Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) urged his colleagues in the House to take action. “I am a cosponsor of bipartisan legislation to permanently reauthorize and fully fund the LWCF,” says Casey. “I have, and will continue to, call on Congressional leadership to bring this legislation up for a vote.”
Speaking at a press conference organized by PennFuture at the Frick Environmental Center, Samuel Robinson, deputy chief of staff for Governor Tom Wolf, said the governor has sent letters to the entire Pennsylvania congressional division compelling lawmakers to protect the fund.
“The need is extraordinary, both at the state level and all of the local parks,” says Robinson. “There’s never enough funding to do everything that we’d like to do, and to provide all the recreational opportunities that we’d like to provide.”
Congressman Mike Doyle (D-Pa. 14) did not respond to requests for comment.
Speaking to NEXTpittsburgh, Heather Sage, director of community projects for the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, explained that the building and maintenance of any kind of public recreation areas are normally financed by a variety of state and local revenue sources. That money is then matched by funds from the LWCF. In many of Pittsburgh’s smaller, less affluent communities, Sage says federal funds are often the only feasible way to get a project off the ground.
So federal funding is “an important strategy to Pittsburgh’s revitalization city-wide,” she says.
Specifically, Sage says the lack of federal funds could badly delay the construction of a new innovative park project in Larimer. “That’s a critical park,” Sage says. “It’s central to the neighborhood’s redevelopment efforts.”
According to data provided by PennFuture, Pennsylvania’s outdoor recreation industry generates $1.9 billion in tax revenue, with $30 billion in consumer spending, supporting 251,000 jobs and many small business owners.
The Land and Water Fund is replenished by taxes on offshore oil and gas drilling, and as such, has long been a target for lobbyists and think tanks tied to the fossil fuel industry. The Heritage Foundation in particular, funded by the Koch brothers, has argued for dismantling the program.
As of Sept. 21, the bill to reauthorize the fund is being considered by the House Committee on Natural Resources.