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Land and Water Conservation Fund: On the Line in Congress

PHOTO: The Ebey Blockhouse on Whidbey Island is one of the historic farm buildings at Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve near Coupeville. The reserve is a candidate for preservation in 2016 with Land and Water Conservation Fund dollars. Photo courtesy National Park Service.
PHOTO: The Ebey Blockhouse on Whidbey Island is one of the historic farm buildings at Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve near Coupeville. The reserve is a candidate for preservation in 2016 with Land and Water Conservation Fund dollars. Photo courtesy National Park Service.
April 21, 2015

SEATTLE - On Wednesday, the U.S. Senate Energy Committee takes up the future of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which has brought $600 million to the Evergreen State over the last 50 years for conservation and recreation projects.

But the LWCF is set to expire this fall, and Congress has to decide whether to reauthorize it. Vlad Gutman, senior policy director with the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition, says the fund is a driver of the state's multi-billion dollar outdoor recreation and tourism economy.

"A big part of what LWCF does is make good on the promise of public lands," he says. "It makes acquisitions and purchases access points, so the public lands we do have can actually be enjoyed by the public."

Gutman notes the LWCF doesn't use tax dollars – it is royalty money paid by offshore oil and gas developers. But Congress almost always raids the fund for other purposes, and some lawmakers believe it should now be used to help address maintenance backlogs on federal land.

Statewide, dozens of projects vie every two years for LWCF grants. Those now waiting on funding include Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve on Whidbey Island, and forestland near Mount St. Helens. Even in Congress, Gutman says Washington has a history of support for the fund.

"This program came from here," he says. "Senator 'Scoop' Jackson was the originator of the program, 50 years ago. All our congressional delegation, Senators Cantwell and Murray and members of the House, continue to be champions for the program."

Senator Maria Cantwell has introduced a bill (S 890) to reauthorize and fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Wednesday's hearing will be streamed live on the Senate Energy Committee's website.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA