Reps. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, and Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., introduced legislation Wednesday to permanently reauthorize the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund and provide 10 years of mandatory funding derived from energy revenues. The Land and National Park Deferred Maintenance (LAND) Act also creates a new dedicated fund to address the Department of the Interior’s deferred maintenance backlog.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund expired Sept. 30.

Every year, the fund receives $900 million from royalties paid by energy companies drilling for oil and gas on the Outer Continental Shelf, though only part of that actually gets appropriated each year for projects. It is intended to protect national parks, areas around rivers and lakes, national forests and national wildlife refuges from development, and to provide matching grants for state and local parks-and-recreation projects. 

Initially authorized in 1964 for a 25-year period, the fund was extended for another 25 years until 2015. It was temporarily extended for another three years until Sept. 30, 2018.

The fund has provided more than $18 billion for projects nationwide. Since 1970, it has spent $958,000 for 13 projects in Blaine County.

Since the program expired, the offshore drilling money that supports it has been diverted into the general treasury. Planned projects using already appropriated money have continued.

The LAND Act would authorize $450 million annually in mandatory expenditures for the next decade. 

The bill would also authorize $450 million in mandatory expenditures annually for 10 years to fund the National Park Service and Related Agencies Maintenance and Revitalization Conservation Fund. According to a news release from Simpson’s office, the current Department of Interior maintenance backlog, which includes National Parks, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Refuges, BLM and Bureau of Indian Education school construction, totals more than $18 billion.

“Conserving land and water is vitally important to ensuring access to our public lands,” Simpson said. “However, ensuring we take care of public lands is equally important.”

Email the writer: gmoore@mtexpress.com

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