AGI Memo on Land and Water Conservation Fund (3-7-01)

The following memo was prepared by AGI's Government Affairs Program for a member society.

Last year’s appropriations end game generated a windfall of money for land and water conservation programs, including $20 million for programs in the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).  The final budget deal represented a convergence of interest from both the White House and Congress in spending Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) money generated by royalties from Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) oil and gas activities. Historically, only a fraction of the funds available for the LWCF have been spent for those purposes; the bulk has gone to deficit reduction. With the federal budget in surplus, the latter need lost its urgency.

The efforts to boost support for the LWCF is of key interest to the geological community because some of the funds are available for research, mapping and monitoring projects within the USGS, federal land acquisition, and grant money for states to use in conservation efforts. This memo addresses the evolution of LWCF efforts in the 106th Congress, the specifics of the final appropriations bills, and the prognosis for these funds in the 107th Congress.

CARA in the House

The 106th Congress used the Conservation and Reinvestment Act (CARA; H.R. 701) as the template for how to distribute and use conservation funds.  CARA was introduced by Reps. Don Young (R-AK) and John Dingell (D-MI), who reintroduced CARA under the same bill number in the 107th Congress in February 2001. Rep. Young originally introduced CARA as a set of independent authorization bills to provide funding for resource protection projects through OCS royalties.  The initiative aims to amend the Water Conservation Fund Act of 1965, the Recreation Recovery Act of 1978, and the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act to create a fund “to meet the outdoor conservation needs of the American people.”

H.R. 701 passed the House on May 11, 2000, in a 315-102 vote.  The bill allocated $2.825 billion annually through fiscal year (FY) 2015 for conservation programs.  The funds would be dispersed among conservation-oriented programs within the federal agencies in the Departments of the Interior, Commerce, and Agriculture.  The programs include: Impact Assistance and Coastal Conservation, Land and Water Conservation Fund Revitalization (not automatically annually appropriated), Wildlife Conservation and Restoration Fund, Urban Park and Recreation Recovery Program, Historic Preservation Fund, Federal and Indian Lands Restoration, Conservation Easements and Species Recovery, Payment In-Lieu of Taxes (PILT), and Refuge Revenue Sharing.  Several amendments were added to H.R. 701 in the House before it passed -- a provision to reduce incentives for offshore drilling, a provision that the funds were in addition to and not in lieu of payments already specified in appropriations bills, a provision that to receive funds states must have a land acquisition fund, and a provision adding the Urban and Community Forestry Program to the programs eligible for funding.

CARA in the Senate

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee revised H.R. 701 to appropriate $2.99 billion annually through FY2016 for conservation programs. The committee version requires the appropriations of the Clinton Administration’s Lands Legacy Initiative to be approved annually before CARA funds can be made available.  The committee also made changes in the programs and dollar amounts to be funded under the initiative.  Along with the programs under the House bill, several other programs can receive funding under the committee version of H.R. 701.  These programs include: Coral Reef Protection, National Park Restoration, Forest Legacy Program, Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program, Cooperative Forestry Rural Development Program, Forest-Dependent Rural Community Assistance Program, and Youth Conservation Corps Programs.  The revised H.R. 701 passed the committee on September 14, 2000, then was placed on the Senate legislative calendar, but never taken up for consideration on the Senate floor.

CARA Transformed into Appropriations

Although the CARA bill did not pass Congress, proponents of the legislation as well as President Clinton pushed to have increased conservation funding included in the FY 2001 Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations bill (H.R. 4578), which funds the DOI, and the Commerce, State, Judiciary Appropriations bill (H.R. 4942), which funds NOAA and the Department of Commerce.  As a result, sections of both bills contain elements from CARA: Title VIII of the Interior bill and Title IX of the Commerce bill.

Title VIII of the Interior bill establishes and authorizes a six-year, Land Conservation, Preservation, and Infrastructure program. It appropriates $1.2 billion for FY 2001 (with another $400 million appropriated by the Commerce bill) and sets maximum amounts for the remaining years, rising from $1.76 billion in FY 2002 to $2.4 billion in FY 2006. But these numbers come with the admonition: "The program is not mandatory and does not guarantee annual appropriations."

Department of the Interior

Under Part A of Title VIII of the Interior bill, $686 million is appropriated for agencies within the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Forest Service. The conference report specifies the following numbers but does not detail how the funds are to be distributed within specific programs in the broad categories.  The decisions about how funds will be distributed within the federal land management agencies will be made in consultation between the land management agencies and the House and Senate Appropriation Committees. The USGS received $20 million for science programs as follows:

USGS science programs                                                        $20,000,000
    National mapping                                                                 $7,000,000
          National cooperative geologic mapping                            $5,000,000
          Earth science information management and delivery         $2,000,000
     Water resources/ stream gauges                                          $5,000,000
     Biological research                                                             $3,000,000
     Science support/ accessible data transfer                             $5,000,000

Part B of Title VIII sets up the Land Conservation, Preservation and Infrastructure Improvement Trust Fund, a "funding priority" within the budget through FY 2006. In future years, these funds are automatically set aside and available in the congressional budget resolution with actual appropriations to be based on need and program performance.

Within its overall authorization, Part B sets up six program categories, each with a "fenced cap" to ensure that funds are not shifted between categories. The USGS programs are within the State and Other Conservation Programs category, which has a $300 million "fence" around it (the amount the category received in FY 2001). Any funds below the cap left unused from the previous fiscal year will remain available for that specific program category. The increased authorized funding in the out years is unfenced and can be spent in any category.

Eligible USGS programs are: "State Planning Partnership programs, Community/Federal Information Partnership, Urban Dynamics, and Decision Support for Resource Management."

Department of Commerce

The $400 million in FY 2001 funding for conservation activities under the Commerce appropriations bill focuses on wetlands, coastal lands, and wildlife preservation.  Of particular interest is Sec. 903 Coastal Impact Assistance that amends the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (43 U.S.C. 1331 et seq.).  Under Sec. 903, OCS revenues -- which include bonus bids, rents, royalties, net profit share payments, and related late payment interest -- will be distributed among the oil-producing states.  The appropriations bill divides the OCS revenues among the states as percentages of the total revenue dollars.  Sixty percent of the OCS revenues will be equally divided among the producing coastal states and forty percent will be divided among the states based on their share of OCS production.

The bill also includes provisions for how the funds are to be distributed within the coastal states receiving funds.  The funds are to be divided among the coastal political subdivisions of a state.  A coastal political subdivision is defined as a county, parish, or equivalent subdivision of which any portion lies in the coastal zone.  Twenty-five percent of the funds will be divided based on the population of a coastal political subdivision.  Another twenty-five percent will be allocated based on the number of coastline miles within a political subdivision.  The remaining fifty- percent of the state funding will be distributed based on the distance that the subdivision is from lands leased for oil production.  Some serious negotiations went into this formula!

States requesting funds under Sec. 903 must develop a Coastal Impact Assistance Plan (due to the Secretary of Commerce by July 1, 2001) that sets forth the proposed use of any funds received by the state.  The admissible uses for funds received under this bill cover a broad spectrum of conservation-related activities.  Activities defined in H.R. 701 Sec. 32(c)(4) are specifically cited as acceptable uses for the funds received.  Notable among these are protection, restoration, and enhancement of coastal water quality; addressing watershed protection; assessment, research, mapping and monitoring of coastal or marine resources and habitats; and protection and restoration of natural coastline protective features including control of coastline erosion.  Other activities receiving funds under the Commerce appropriations bill are projects and activities for the conservation, protection, or restoration of wetlands, and implementation of federally approved marine, coastal, or comprehensive management plans.

The 107th Congress

Young and Dingell have written a letter to President Bush emphasizing the bipartisan support CARA received in the 106th Congress and citing the FY 2001 appropriations language drawn from CARA.  The letter encourages Bush to support the bill stating: "We firmly believe that your Administration, the Congress and the American people would be well served to have a common-sense environmental bill as a key component of your first agenda."  Several factors increase the likelihood that the bill, authorizing a total of almost $45 billion in conservation funding over 15 years, will be passed in the 107th Congress.  Not only is the process beginning early in the session, but the election results pushed Slade Gorton -- a major opponent of the bill and former Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior -- out of his position. They also created a 50-50 split in the Senate, leading to rule changes that allow Democrats to call up legislation for a vote.

Whether or not CARA passes in the 107th Congress, the Land Conservation, Preservation and Infrastructure Improvement Trust Fund authorized in the FY 2001 Interior bill remains in effect. Will the USGS receive funding from this fund in FY 2002? There are no guarantees. The act sets aside $300 million in the budget resolution for State and Other Conservation Programs. Because the budget resolution is not signed by the President, one can argue that this funding has little to do with whether or not President Bush requests it in his budget submission. But he must sign the final appropriations bill. Will he and Interior Secretary Gale Norton actively oppose such spending? They might oppose spending for additional land acquisition but have already signaled their support for funding park maintenance. It would seem that USGS science programs would fall closer to the latter than the former and would not be opposed by the administration in the final budget negotiations. 

Sources:  AGI website, MMS website, CRS website, Greenwire, E&E Daily, Thomas website, CNN website, Department of the Interior website, and AAPG Explorer.

Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program.

Contributed by Margaret Baker, Dave Applegate, and AGI/AAPG 2001 Spring Semester Intern Mary Patterson.

Last updated March 13, 2001.

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