Tom Flynn tracks policy related to conservation and recreation for the Outdoor Alliance. Most Fridays, he summarizes the week’s top outdoor policy related headlines. With questions, news tips and angry hate mail, email him at tom [at] outdooralliance [dot] net.
Proposed Budgets Gut Funding for Conservation, Recreation…
Funding for the outdoors took a beating this week. This time every year, Congress determines how much money goes where. On the House side, funding for public lands has to go through the Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies. This week, that subcommittee released a funding bill that cuts 19% from last year. That’s a lot. The Environmental Protection Agency takes a big hit, but for recreation and conservation, the blow to the Land and Water Conservation Fund – LWCF – hurts the most. For the first time in its 50-year history, LWCF got exactly nothing. Zilch. Nada. Here’s how LWCF works. It takes fees from offshore drilling in the Gulf and sends that money to the states for projects, like buying important pieces of public land or building mountain bike trails. Sounds simple enough, except every year Congress determines how much of a possible $900 million LWCF gets. Yes, that’s right, the subcommittee wants to give LWCF $0 of a possible $900 million. This means that not only would there be no money for new projects, but ongoing projects would also grind to a halt. Sure, our country faces a debt crisis. But zeroing out LWCF – a program that protects the outdoors, gets people outside and is NOT funded with taxpayer dollars – is ridiculous. Thankfully there are those standing up for LWCF, like Senator Udall of Colorado and President Obama, who asked for $600 million for LWCF in his version of the budget. With a few more steps before any of this is finalized, including a full committee hearing next week, there is still hope for LWCF. When you start at zero, any change is an improvement.
…And Trails Too.
But wait, there’s more. While LWCF stands to be zeroed out by the House, the Recreation Trails Program faces a similar threat in the Senate. This program, RTP for short, uses money from a gas tax to build and maintain trails for mountain bikers and others. Now one Senator wants to use an amendment to the Senate’s transportation funding bill to take this money…and spend it on bridges. (Actually, it’s a bit worse than that, because he wants to take a whole pot of money, which goes to RTP as well as on-road bike lanes and the like.) No one is arguing that bridges should be left to crumble. But RTP funding really isn’t enough money to make a dent in our country’s infrastructure problem. Eliminating it, on the other hand, will have a huge affect on multi-use trail construction and maintenance. Like with LWCF, this is not a done deal. Taken together, these threats to LWCF and RTP are bad news for the outdoors – not so much because they will certainly happen, but because funding for the outdoors seems to look to some politicians like a juicy target, ripe for the taking.