Military Construction, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2016—Motion to Proceedby Senator James Lankford
Posted on 2015-09-30
LANKFORD. Mr. President, I also wish to speak to the issue of the
objection on this, the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
Twenty-nine percent of all the land in the United States is already under Federal ownership. Let me clarify. This is not Federal control-- Federal ownership, 29 percent of the land. There is $20 billion in deferred maintenance on that land--$20 billion. So there is a significant issue we face where a tremendous amount of land that is owned by the Federal Government is not being managed properly, including over $11 billion of that just in our national parks.
The issue here is, what is this Land and Water Conservation Fund going to be used for? Continuing to acquire new land. It is actually prohibited under the structure of this account, to actually do any of the maintenance. So we are continuing to acquire new land constantly, expanding landholdings, already at 29 percent of the total property in the United States, but we are not doing maintenance on what we already have, and we continue to complain there is not enough money to be able to go around and get this done.
If only this was the only program that actually did land acquisition in Federal control. In the past several years, there have been 130 conservation banks also set up by the Fish and Wildlife Service. These 130 different conservation banks that are scattered around the United States actually take private land and set it aside for what they call perpetual--perpetual--set-aside. This is land that is still in private ownership, but that is under conservation that can never be changed from its current status. Just in the recent decades, 160,000 acres have been moved into what they are calling these conservation banks.
To reiterate, we have a growing amount of land that is being taken in Federal ownership through the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and then we have a separate set of programs--and this is only one of many programs--that is moving other land into Federal control and mitigation, and we have this expanding control of the Federal Government.
[[Page S7043]] We should have National Parks. We should have land that is set aside for public use. That is not the issue, but we are not taking care of what we currently have. The key issue is, what do we do with this program, and how do we reform it. As has already been mentioned, it is the key issue. If the Land and Water Conservation Fund has a reform, there are ways to be able to handle some of our deferred maintenance and the backlog that is there. If it doesn't have any reform at all, we are continuing to purchase new land, but one key thing that is in this as well, as it currently stands right now, the Land and Water Conservation continues to function. Nothing changes about it. The only thing that changes, as of tomorrow, is that we are not adding new dollars into it. Twenty billion dollars is already sitting in that fund, enough money to fund this program at current rates for 65 years'--65 years'--worth of savings that is already built up in this program. I think it is fairly safe at this point. Strangely enough, the Land and Water Conservation Fund is more stable than Social Security is.
So the argument is that there is some urgent emergency here to be able to take care of it, and to continue to add dollars to it without reform I think will not work. We need to reform this program. We need to manage carefully the land we have, and we can do that.
I would highly suggest that the committees continue to do their work to be able to continue to reform this program. With that, I would also join in the objection to extending it as it currently exists today.
I yield back the remainder of my time.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from New Mexico.