In stormy markup, panel OKs parks, drilling and LWCF bills
Kellie Lunney, E&E News reporter Thursday, September 13, 2018
The House Natural Resources Committee today marked up legislation dealing with revenue sharing, national parks, the Land and Water Conservation Fund and other matters. Natural Resources Committee
Despite last-minute fireworks from a Louisiana Republican, a House committee this morning advanced three major bills, including one that permanently reauthorizes a popular land and water conservation program before it expires on Sept. 30.
Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) and the panel’s top Democrat, Rep. Raúl Grijalva of Arizona, hammered out a bipartisan agreement that extends the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a major win for many of the program’s supporters who are tired of 11th-hour scrambles over the years to temporarily authorize LWCF.
The voice vote on the deal came as a surprise during a markup that initially was only supposed to consider one bill: the “Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act,” H.R. 6510.
But a decision by House leadership to cancel tomorrow’s session, as well as pressure from Louisiana Republican Rep. Garret Graves to take up his bill boosting the share of offshore oil and gas drilling revenues for Gulf Coast states, forced a doubleheader session on the three bills, as Bishop put it.
The committee also advanced Graves’ bill — H.R. 6771, which would increase the revenue-sharing for Gulf states from the current level of 37.5 percent to 50 percent — and the parks bill by voice vote.
The LWCF bill would allocate 40 percent of money to the fund’s state-side program, 40 percent to the federal government and 20 percent for other necessary activities that could include deferred maintenance needs, for example.
Under the legislation, Washington, D.C., and the U.S. territories would be treated as individual states with equal shares for the purposes of LWCF.
Another provision would give a 3 percent set-aside for recreation access, requiring the Interior secretary to put together a list of priority projects.
“This is a taste of what’s possible when people work together in good faith,” Grijalva said today. “Days like these are far too rare in Congress, and if we keep this up, we might just restore public trust in Congress’ ability to get things done.”
Bishop added, “My reservations about the program have never been about the goals of LWCF, rather I’ve been frustrated that the implementation of the program fell short of the law’s intended purpose.”
Bishop stuck to his agreement with Grijalva, rejecting several ultimately unsuccessful amendments from other Republicans, including one from Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas, seeking to decrease the annual authorized $900 million LWCF amount by half.
Another from Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) would have required the Interior secretary to sell an equal number of acres for land acquired by the federal government under LWCF.
LWCF still has a way to go in the face of an abbreviated congressional calendar: The full House needs to take up the measure, and the matter remains in limbo in the Senate. Members there continue to struggle to find a vehicle for reauthorization.
Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the program’s longtime champion who has been pushing in recent weeks to permanently reauthorize it, said he’s “been closely following” the House bill.
“There is strong, bipartisan support in both chambers for permanently reauthorizing LWCF,” Burr said in a statement. “With the program’s expiration deadline quickly approaching, I will not let up my push for a vote on LWCF to save America’s most popular and successful conservation program.”
Burr has not yet taken a position on the House bill, said his spokeswoman Caitlin Carroll.
Outside groups were pleased with today’s outcome.
“We’re thrilled that Chairman Bishop and ranking member Grijalva are working together on a compromise that advances the Land and Water Conservation Fund in a meaningful way. We’re now one step closer to permanently reauthorizing LWCF,” said Julia Peebles, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers’ government relations manager.
However, Peebles acknowledged that the fight wasn’t over. “BHA and our partners will redouble our efforts in support of LWCF to ensure that this bill crosses the finish line — and we also will continue our work to secure dedicated funding for America’s most popular and successful conservation and access program,” she said.
Bipartisan parks bill
The parks bill would create a five-year, $6.5 billion fund for four Interior agencies to address long-standing maintenance and construction backlogs at the nation’s parks, wildlife refuges and Bureau of Indian Education schools.
“I recognize this won’t stand alone, but ultimately there will be other pieces that have to go forward with it,” said Bishop, specifically mentioning revenue-sharing with states and the authorization of the LWCF as “elements” that ultimately will have to be dealt with in some way.
The money for the proposed “National Park Service and Public Lands Legacy Restoration Fund” would be made up of 50 percent of all otherwise unallocated revenue from energy production on federal lands and waters.
Interior’s largest agencies — the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, and Fish and Wildlife Service, along with the Bureau of Indian Education — would benefit from the fund. The legislation, similar to a bipartisan bill introduced in June in the Senate, is a combination of existing proposals.
But today’s markup devolved into a debate over where precious oil and gas drilling revenues go and which lands and waters benefit from those conservation dollars.
Graves and Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.) unsuccessfully introduced several amendments — more than 20 — to H.R. 6510. All the provisions essentially tried to protect the Gulf Coast states from losing out.
Lawmakers from those states, which produce the lion’s share of offshore oil and gas drilling revenues, are concerned the parks bill would take money meant for them.
The Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act, passed after Hurricane Katrina, allowed Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas to share 37.5 percent of oil and gas revenues produced in federal waters off their coasts to assist them with coastal restoration and hurricane protection.
Graves used the markup to vociferously fight for his state’s share of oil and gas drilling money, which Louisiana uses for coastal restoration and other conservation projects.
While the panel rejected his amendments to the parks bill, no one voiced objection to his GOMESA reform legislation, just introduced yesterday.
Kevin Roig, Graves’ deputy chief of staff, said his bill “brings revenue-sharing from offshore production more in line with onshore. While state producing energy onshore federal lands get to retain 50 percent of the energy revenues, coastal states have received a small fraction.”
Roig said Graves’ bill would also ensure new revenues would go to coastal restoration projects that help communities better weather hurricanes and other disasters. The proposed 50 percent in sharing would be for leases issues after December 2006.
California Democratic Rep. Jared Huffman said he wanted to focus on areas of agreement to restore important wetlands in Louisiana and elsewhere.
“We’ve got a lot of grievances we can bring to these conversations,” Huffman said to Graves, responding to the Louisianan’s remarks over how other states benefit greatly from his state’s energy development.
“I want to see the right thing done, but without punishing other states,” Huffman said.