What’s Up With: Biden “No New Leases” and Funding LWCF?

From Idaho LWCF summary.

Colorado Senator Gardner (R) and Senator Manchin of WVA (D) were responsible for shepherding the recent LWCF bill through Congress and getting it signed by the President.  Their efforts were greatly supported by the conservation community in general.

Here’s a link to the Forest Service LWCF page. I couldn’t get the map to work, and I’d be interested in whether others can.

Currently the push from organizations like the Land and Water Conservation Fund Coalition is to get Congress to use all the funds (you can sign on to a letter).

It was a simple idea: use revenues from the depletion of one natural resource – offshore oil and gas – to support the conservation of another precious resource – our land and water. Every year, $900 million in royalties paid by energy companies drilling for oil and gas on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) are put into this fund. The money 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.  Over the years, LWCF has also grown and evolved to include grants to protect working forests, wildlife habitat, critical drinking water supplies and disappearing battlefields, as well as increased use of easements.

Yet, nearly every year, Congress breaks its own promise to the American people and diverts much of this funding to uses other than conserving our most important lands and waters.

Now as part of Senator Biden’s campaign, he pledged to “ban new oil and gas permitting on public lands and waters” (from the WaPo compendium of positions). I wasn’t sure (1) that the OCS counts as public lands or waters or (2) perhaps the OCS is all leased anyway. Of course, I’m also not sure that “public” is the right word, as I’m not sure the Prez can legally dictate what happens on the land of other government entities.

I couldn’t find any info on this anywhere, and finally a kindly E&E reporter gave me this link to a story by E&E News reporter Kellie Lunney. I hope you can read the whole thing, but I’m not sure about the E&E paywall. Some excerpts:

It’s not an entirely new argument. Members of Congress from energy-producing states, including Louisiana, have pointed out over the years that oil and gas drilling revenues pay for a wide range of conservation and coastal restoration projects, including LWCF.

But it’s an argument that could end up gaining more traction than some more gimmicky attempts — such as that the Green New Deal will eliminate hamburgers and milkshakes — that opponents have used to mock the framework as unrealistic and foolish (E&E Daily, Feb. 28).

“Yeah, I think it’s a Catch-22,” said House Natural Resources Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) about the dependence of programs like LWCF on oil and gas revenues.

“The more we become dependent on that, the more the push is going to be to expand that, and I think we need to mitigate that.”

Grijalva helped craft the public lands package and push permanent LWCF reauthorization along with the panel’s top Republican, Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah.

The chairman said that other than straight-up appropriations for LWCF, there are “not too many” other funding mechanisms he could envision for the program if the offshore drilling revenue stream were to dry up.

But that’s why it’s important now to allocate more money to the fund than it has traditionally received, to “maximize its use” and start making the transition from offshore revenue-dependent funding, Grijalva said.

The authorized funding level for LWCF is $900 million, but it has hardly ever been funded at that level; its annual appropriations in recent years have typically been about half that.

There’s also GOMESA

The 2006 Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act (GOMESA), passed shortly after Hurricane Katrina, allows four Gulf Coast states — 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 storm protection.

It’s a critical program for the area, and one the region’s lawmakers fiercely defend.

Louisiana Rep. Garret Graves (R) has referred to the state’s coastal region as being the “goose laying the golden egg” for the federal government when it comes to LWCF, and possibly a trust fund of unallocated revenues to pay for the massive public lands and national parks maintenance backlog (E&E Daily, Nov. 13, 2018).

A portion of GOMESA revenues also helps fund LWCF. Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas generated $200 billion in offshore oil and gas revenue last year for the federal government.

What I got from all this is (1) in the short run, with Biden’s promise (and assuming Congress goes along with it) money will keep flowing in from current leases, (2) in the medium term, that funding would dry up and need to be replaced by another source of funding (renewable energy on federal land?) or to the general taxpayers (but that requires budget battles that they may not win). So perhaps we ought to think about replacement in terms of payments to the feds (and the state portion) for future wind and solar leases on federal land. It’s probably not too soon to start thinking about it.

(2) folks in Congress are actually working across the aisle (even possibly unlikely ones like Grijalva and Bishop!)

3 thoughts on “What’s Up With: Biden “No New Leases” and Funding LWCF?”

  1. Having been involved with non-profit land trusts over the years I’ve always cringed at their enthusiastic support of LWCF (because of course it is a major source of funds for buying conservation lands and easements, which is a large part of what many of them do). It’s basically blood money, but if it’s there it needs to be used for its intended purpose. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a conservationist say it would be worth it to increase oil and gas drilling to get more land conservation. (This reminds me a bit of the idea that timber sales are good because they can fund restoration.)

    I’ve wondered if anyone is thinking about what’s next when the oil is turned off (especially since some of the same people want to turn off the oil). It sounds like not much, but Congress always needs to wait for a crisis. So I’m glad you brought this up. I wouldn’t jump to support increased fees for renewable energy when we are trying to increase renewable energy for the good of the world. Maybe a good use for a carbon tax?

    • Jon, at the risk of getting all philosophical-like, if you call it “blood money” to use money from federal oil and gas producers, does that mean filling your gas tank or propane tank is equally “sinful”? Just trying to understand your moral landscape.

      • “Blood money: money obtained at the cost of another’s life.” Figurative (mostly) and making an economic point rather than religious or moral. But yes I’m part of the problem. I suppose I should feel better that the gas I pump is paying for conservation.


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