Oct 23, 2015 by


23eganWeb-master315-2                                                                                                                            Photo
Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah. Credit Rick Bowmer/Associated Press


In every town is preserved a pocket of the past, some scrap of nature yet unturned, a field where soldiers fell, or the childhood home of someone who tried to fix the unfixable. We’ve held onto these everyday brighteners of American life in large part because of one of the most successful bipartisan programs in history, a fund that takes nothing from taxpayers.
Stories from Our Advertisers

I wish I could say it comes as a surprise, then, to report that the most feckless Congress in history has just allowed this program, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, to die. With it could go thousands of projects nurtured along by people who had hoped that the chaos of a political party in a high fever would not reach into their favorite places.

But it has. Neighborhood playgrounds, walking trails bordering bustling cities, national parks, beaches, bridges, bike paths and birding sites are all imperiled by the imperious rigidity of a handful of congressional Republicans. For a half century, everything including the hugely popular Appalachian Trail and the memorial in Pennsylvania where Flight 93 went down on Sept. 11 has relied on money from this fund, generated by revenues from oil and gas leases.

Watching Congress fall apart is amusing, in some quarters. Republicans can’t pass a budget without threatening to shut down the government. Brinkmanship has replaced compromise. They do witch hunts and show trials. They throw hissy fits and say crazy things on the cable channels. One member has already threatened to impeach Hillary Clinton if she wins the presidency. What they won’t do is govern.

“We have become the problem,” said Representative Paul Ryan, in a plea for some semblance of sanity as he laid out the terms under which he would serve as House speaker.

At the least, Congress should follow the advice given medical students on day one: First, do no harm, from the Latin primum non nocere. So it is amusing — the antics of this laughable, unlikable, dysfunctional Congress — until it reaches your backyard. In California, the threat is to a stretch of beach that a community has spent a decade raising funds to protect. In the Pacific Northwest, it is 42 acres of woodland at the edge of a metro area of three million people. In Kansas, it’s a historic site.

Each of these places is extraordinary in its own way. And the efforts to protect them are models of community-driven initiatives. Typically, people raise private money on their own to buy land, or save an old home or battleground of some significance, and then use matching funds from the Land and Water Conservation revenue to complete the purchase.

Every day, the fund generates about $2.5 million, from leases on offshore oil and gas drilling. So nothing comes directly from taxpayers. Its simplicity is in its symmetry: Rent money from resource extraction is redirected into restoration of our shared spaces. In this way, more than five million acres have been protected. National park sites, from Gettysburg to the Grand Tetons, also depend on this fund to buy private parcels.

What’s not to like? Ask Representative Rob Bishop of Utah, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee. He’s the villain in this piece, a grim-faced ideologue who clearly doesn’t like public land or parks. If Bishop would only get out of the way and let renewal of this popular fund come up for a full vote, it would pass with bipartisan support, as evidenced by commitment letters from members of both parties. The fund was last renewed 25 years ago, and sailed through with nary a complaint. This money has helped to protect places in all 50 states and 98 percent of American counties. But the program is dead now, as of Oct. 1.

Bishop is determined to do real harm, to many real places, using his power as a “bomb thrower,” as Ryan called the congressional radicals. He’s been petty and tyrannical when faced with pleas by other members to let the fund come up for a vote. This means that access to existing parks and trails, through private land that was slated for purchase through the fund, will be denied.

“Montana has been dealt a blow by a small group of shortsighted, extreme members of the 114th Congress,” wrote The Great Falls Tribune. I quote them because the Land and Water Conservation Fund has Mayberry-level support across the United States. It’s something Boy Scouts work on when they become adults.

Bishop has vowed that the fund won’t be renewed unless he can destroy the successful format that has been so crucial to the greater good. He’s suggested giving the money back to oil and gas companies. And he’s complained that the money is a “slush fund,” misused by those who want to help expand the public land footprint.

In a nutshell crammed with nutcases, this is your Congress. It’s a place that doesn’t work taking on something that does work, and killing it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.