This summer, both chambers of Congress have been working towards a conference agreement between two energy bills, H.R. 8 (the base package) and S. 2012. The House passed its bill in late 2015, while the Senate agreed on its version this past April. The House then passed an amended version of the Senate bill, setting up the conference process that began in July.
The conference committee is now tasked with passing a package addressing a broad range of energy issues, including infrastructure and permitting reform, energy security, efficiency, and federal land policy, among others. While both bills cover a variety of policy areas, so far the negotiations have yet to significantly move the needle in the energy policy sphere.
However, one important policy provision is set to cause significant debate. The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) uses offshore drilling royalties to fund federal land acquisition projects. The LWCF expired at the end of FY2015, yet was reauthorized for three years in the FY2016 Omnibus negotiations. The Senate bill contains a permanent reauthorization of the LWCF, while the House amendment does not.
This impasse will likely tie up negotiations. Many environmentalists are pushing for permanent reauthorization, while a number of Republicans, led by Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rep. Bishop, oppose such a reauthorization. Rep. Bishop has long advocated for reforms to the LWCF before any reauthorization and strongly opposes permanent reauthorization. Indeed, the LWCF has strayed far from its original mandate by improperly managing its holdings and locking Americans out of more than one billions acres of land.
By and large, federal lands are poorly managed. For example, according to the Property and Environment Research Center, Montana, Idaho, New Mexico, and Arizona bring in on average $14.51 for every dollar spent on state trust lands. However, the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management loses 27 cents per dollar spent on federal land management. Furthermore, since 2010 oil production is up 113 percent on private and state lands, but up a measly 0.8 percent on federal lands.
Rubber-stamping the LWCF will only perpetuate the federal government’s inefficient land management and would be an abdication of Congressional responsibility. Whatever the House and Senate agree on should not contain a permanent reauthorization of the LWCF, and both chambers should work to reform the program to account for inefficiencies in the management of funds.