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Richard B.
Republican NC

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  • Unanimous Consent Request—S. 338

    by Senator Richard Burr

    Posted on 2015-02-05

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    BURR. Mr. President, I rise to tell my colleagues that shortly I intend to ask unanimous consent to call up S. 338, but prior to that I would like to say a few things about it. S. 338 was introduced by myself, Senator Bennet, and Senator Ayotte. What it would do is permanently authorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund. It would also guarantee that a small portion of any appropriated money goes toward maintaining access for those who use our public lands, the American people.

    The Land and Water Conservation Fund is essential to making public lands public, by securing recreational areas, particularly where opportunities for sportsmen and others to access existing public lands are limited or precluded. As I am sure the Presiding Officer is aware, this program expires on September 30 and we can no longer [[Page S817]] wait to reauthorize what I believe is dollar for dollar one of the most effective government programs we have.

    This is an investment that rivals any Wall Street honey of a deal that I have ever heard of. Every $1 spent has roughly $4 rates of return in either matching funds or money contributed back into our economy. This is an economic driver. The bait and the tackle shop, the outdoor apparel equipment store, the guide service, the mom-and-pop lodge, these are all local jobs. They cannot be outsourced. I realize this town does not take care of--it does not care much about budgets or responsible spending, but the simple truth is this program is a trust fund codified by law--by law--every year. No less than $900 million in royalties are paid by energy companies drilling for oil and gas on the Outer Continental Shelf. They are put into this fund--royalties off of energy exploration, something Congress when they in their infinite wisdom set up this program said they were a good thing.

    Every year no less than $900 million in royalties are paid and go into this fund. The money is intended to, one, protect areas around national parks, rivers, and lakes. I note to my colleagues not ``create'' national parks, to ``protect''; two, to provide buffers for national forests and national wildlife refuges from development; three, to provide matching grants for State and local parks and recreation projects. In fiscal year 2013, the Department of the Interior collected more than $29 billion from offshore production. How much of that went to LWCF--$306 million. That is barely one-third of the amount deposited at the Treasury Department for this purpose. Talk about highway robbery.

    I can point to numerous years where this has been the case. Over the life of the program more than $18 billion of land and water conservation funding has been diverted into the general fund to pay for programs other than what they were intended to be there for. This is a covenant with the American people that we have broken time and time and time again. It needs to stop.

    My colleagues, this is not a land grab. It is not a land grab program as some have suggested it is. I would suggest to everyone it is a land solution. It is a tool. The LWCF goes toward the purchase of inholdings, those pieces of property that are inside a protected piece that is valuable for the future. The only reason there are inholdings is that they were not available when that tract was put together. It is used to buy property adjacent to existing boundaries and can help solve management problems rather than add to them.

    I wish to give my colleagues one example: Clarks River National Wildlife Refuge in the great State of Kentucky. Acquisition of the tract there completed a connection between the refuge lands and the Clarks River. Previously, access to the river required excessive hiking because there was no approved vehicle access.

    These access issues also limited the refuge's ability to provide environmental education and interpretation programs. Now the site provides access to the river for school groups, their transportation, and allows refuge staff to provide hands-on environmental instruction to students.

    We went from a situation where you can only walk to this land to an acquisition by a conservation component funded by royalties of oil and gas exploration, and now vehicles can actually ride on it. School children can go there and go through transitional education for the purposes of understanding why this is so valuable to protect.

    Most lands acquired with LWCF funds are within the existing boundaries of a Federal park, refuge, forest or other recreational areas. Much of the rest is used for conservation easements and State grants, which do not add to Federal management costs.

    Let me state that again. When we allow this process to take place, we actually reduced the burden on Federal agencies from a standpoint of their management responsibilities with Federal dollars.

    These partnerships through LWCF easements are a win-win. They keep ranchers and farmers on their land while maintaining wildlife habitat and open spaces. Strategic LWCF purchases can defuse conflicts with private landowners by securing permanent access for sportsmen.

    With changing land use and ownership patterns, areas that were once open and usable are now either blocked or cut off. Public lands are often sometimes inherently sequestered from roads and towns by narrow pieces of private-ownership land. LWCF funds bring together sportsmen and willing sellers with the intent of open access for everyone.

    The Land and Water Conservation Fund is a down payment. It is a down payment on an investment that sustains the American way of life. The best part, I say to my colleagues, is that it is paid for.

    I am not here to suggest that I want to tackle the pittance that the fund receives and how much it was promised. I am only here today, along with my colleague from Colorado, to call up the bill to permanently authorize this program so that we don't go through this exercise every time that reauthorization is needed.

    In a country that continues to explore for energy--and I hope we continue and become self-sufficient--let's use the portion of the resources that we can to fuel the beach renourishment, to rebuild the dunes, to buy those inholdings to get buffer zones around those treasures we try to protect. As we do that, let's open it up to American sportsmen to hunt, to fish, to use. That is what LWCF is about.

    Let's start acting as if the agreement we made with the American people 50 years ago actually means something. Let's authorize permanently the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

    Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that at a time to be determined by the majority leader, in consultation with the Democratic leader, the Senate proceed to the consideration of S. 338; that there be up to 1 hour equally divided in the usual form; that following the use or yielding back of that time, the bill be read a third time, and the Senate vote on passage of the bill with no intervening action or debate.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. Is there objection? The Senator from Utah.

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