By Sen. Angus King
Seacoast Online op-ed
Maine is blessed with countless natural wonders – it’s part of what makes our state so special. We are fortunate to live among such vast beauty and abundant resources, and it is our responsibility as environmental stewards to see that the land is responsibly managed so future generations can also appreciate what we enjoy today.
That’s why I am committed to reauthorizing the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), a visionary partnership program that provides matching funds to states and local communities for acquisition, development, and conservation of parks and open spaces. Since the program was created by Congress 50 years ago, projects in Maine have received more than $172 million to help maintain and expand places such as Acadia National Park and the Saint Croix Island International Historic Site – support that has helped these areas increase accessibility to visitors and enhance their positive impact on the local economy.
Moreover, the fund also supports local recreational efforts that benefit Maine communities. While the LWCF is often known for its efforts to help maintain lands for our existing national parks, a significant portion of LWCF funds are also allocated to states and municipalities to support a wide-range of projects – from our many beautiful state parks and lands to local basketball courts and neighborhood swing-sets. In fact, I met earlier this year with local park officials from Bath, Bangor and Skowhegan who – thanks in part to support from LWCF funding – are able to run summer programs for kids, offer recreational opportunities, and partner with school lunch programs. So not only does this fund protect and preserve our most treasured national sites, but it also helps provide safe spaces for children to eat meals and play.
Despite the remarkable success of the LWCF, Congress made the mistake of allowing its authorization to expire earlier this fall. And though the fund has enough money to continue operations in the short-term, its long-term future is now in doubt. The LWCF was designed in 1965 to take revenues from offshore oil and gas development and to put those funds toward ensuring public access to outdoor recreation. It was based on the principle that those resources belong to every American, and that every American should share in those benefits. But while Congress authorized the LWCF to use up to $900 million of that oil and gas revenue every year, it has only been fully funded twice in its history. What’s more, Congress has often raided the fund and diverted those revenues to other areas of the budget, leaving an essential part of our land conservation efforts underfunded.
It’s astounding to me that we continue to undervalue the LWCF, which has proven to be one of the most forward-thinking and successful federal initiatives over the last half century. We owe it to our communities – and to future generations – to permanently reauthorize and fully fund the LWCF. As a strong proponent of conservation and outdoor recreation, I’ve been working on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee to achieve just that, and I will continue to remind my colleagues of the important role that this fund plays in promoting and preserving recreational opportunities around the country.
In 1886, during an Independence Day address in the Badlands of North Dakota, future President Theodore Roosevelt emphasized America’s unique heritage of conservation and the need to pass that tradition on to future generations. “It is not what we have that will make us a great nation,” he said. “It is the way in which we use it.”
Congress would do well to heed President Roosevelt’s words by immediately and permanently reauthorizing the Land and Water Conservation Fund. That way, we can continue our proud legacy of protecting the nation’s natural beauty and ensure that everyone can enjoy its many wonders for years to come.