Letter: Congress should renew Land and Water Conservation Fund

The energy industry is known around the country for a lot of things, including technological innovation, job creation and its dedication to providing America the fuel that keeps our economy humming. Yet one of the industry’s most enduring characteristics often gets lost among debates over offshore drilling and hydraulic fracturing: its long-standing role in helping preserve our country’s natural resources.

A number of examples illustrate the industry’s contributions to conservation efforts. Offshore, the rigs-to-reef program helps preserve flourishing marine habitats that grow under and around offshore platforms by allowing decommissioned platforms to take on a second life as marine sanctuaries. Onshore, many companies that produce natural gas are converting to vehicle fleets that run off the same natural gas they produce daily. Many more make the effort to recycle the water used in the process of hydraulic fracturing to ensure it can be used again and again to help unlock the fossil fuels housed in shale rock thousands of feet below the surface.

Another important tool by which energy development helps preserve the natural environment is the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which was established nearly 50 years ago to direct offshore drilling revenue toward the protection of land and water resources that are treasured by all Americans. Each year, the LWCF stands to receive $900 million in energy company royalties to help create and preserve parks, waterways, wildlife refuges and more — along with the jobs and economic activity stemming from related outdoor recreation activities. The revenue is directed to projects throughout the country, from the Florida Everglades and the Appalachian Trail to neighborhood playground sites.

Unfortunately, the LWCF is in peril. Despite its widespread appeal and bipartisan support, the program will expire next year unless Congress moves to renew it. Beyond that, the promised $900 million in annual revenue has been routinely diverted to other spending priorities for years, amounting to some $17 billion currently owed to the fund.

Luckily, we still have a chance to revive the LWCF and redirect some of the revenue where it was intended. The key is for members of Congress to renew their commitment to the program and pledge to fully fund it to its authorized level so it can continue its ongoing work.

Fifty years ago, our government came up with a simple but elegant plan to use revenues generated from harvesting one natural resource to enhance the conservation of others — our country’s land and water. The LWCF makes as much sense today as it did then, and benefits Americans across the country and across the political spectrum. Let’s urge our members of Congress to get behind an old idea … and break some new ground in Washington in doing so.

Jim Noe

executive director, Shallow Water Energy Security Coalition

Houston