Greenville leaders call for reauthorization of federal conservation fund

This aerial photos shows Falls Park and the Liberty Bridge in downtown Greenville. Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images.

A federal fund that has provided millions of dollars for the purchase and protection of South Carolina’s public lands expired in September when Congress failed to take action.

Now Greenville leaders are calling for its permanent reauthorization.

Mayor Knox White; state Sen. William Timmons, R-Greenville; and state Rep. Chandra Dillard, D-Greenville, hosted a joint news conference with Conservation Voters of South Carolina, one of the state’s largest environmental groups, in Falls Park on Thursday, Nov. 1, to voice their support of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. 

Established by Congress in 1964, the Land and Water Conservation Fund uses federal royalties from offshore oil and gas drilling to support conservation and public recreation projects around the country without using taxpayer money. It makes funds available in the form of matching grants to local, state, and federal agencies.

“The Land and Water Conservation Fund is the nation’s most successful conservation program and has given our communities important access to waterways, parks, and incredible outdoor recreation opportunities,” said John Tynan, executive director of Conservation Voters of South Carolina, in a news release. “We need Congress to reauthorize this program so our residents — both here and throughout the state — continue to enjoy the health, wellness, and community benefits of public spaces like this iconic Greenville park on the Reedy River.”  

According to the U.S. Department of the Interior, the LWCF has contributed $10.2 billion to the purchase and protection of 5 million acres, including most or all of the land in dozens of national parks. It has also supported the development of 29,000 recreational facilities.

South Carolina has received more than $294 million from the program for projects like the Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge in Conway and Congaree National Park in Columbia, according to the LWCF Coalition, a network of organizations that support the program.  

Other sites that have benefited from the LWCF include Fort Sumter National Monument in Charleston and the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area in northern Greenville County, which includes Caesar’s Head State Park, Table Rock State Park, and Jones Gap State Park.

The program was also critical to funding the construction of Falls Park, according to White.

“Falls Park is a Greenville landmark and spurred a new era of downtown redevelopment. Without the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the park would not have been possible,” White said in the release. “It is in collaboration with the LWCF that Greenville and other cities create positive, healthy environments for their residents to enjoy.”

While the LWCF still has billions of dollars to continue funding projects, it can’t collect new money unless Congress agrees to reauthorize it. Until then, the royalties that the program usually collects from offshore oil and natural gas drilling will instead go into the general federal treasury.

A bill to permanently reauthorize the LWCF passed in the House Committee on Natural Resources in September, but the House adjourned until mid-November without voting on it. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved a similar bill in October, setting the legislation up for a potential vote in the full Senate. Both bills would dedicate a minimum of $10 million from the fund each year to “projects that secure recreational public access to existing Federal public land for hunting, fishing, and other recreational purposes.”

The LWCF has historically received bipartisan support, with many lawmakers arguing that it not only protects wildlife habitats but also improves public access to outdoor recreation, an industry that accounts for $887 billion in consumer spending and 7.6 million American jobs. This spring, a coalition of more than 200 House Republicans and Democrats sent a letter to the House Appropriations Committee urging its leadership “to allocate robust funding to this valuable, time-tested program.”

“The Land and Water Conservation Fund is a bipartisan program that improves our quality of life of all our residents, while helping stimulate the economy and generate jobs,” Timmons said in the release. “Protecting our iconic South Carolina landscapes supports tourism and the outdoor recreation industry — including 150,000 jobs and $16 billion in spending. Programs like this are essential to our way of life in the Palmetto State.”

“From my time in local and state government, I know that communities need as many tools as we can get for land protection and parks development,” Dillard said in the release. “Tools like the SC Conservation Bank and the federal Land & Water Conservation Fund are vital to our communities — helping us protect the places that define our communities and bring us together. We need to do all we can to make sure we keep these tools available.”

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