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Transportation Bill Drops LWCF, Funds Gulf Coast Restoration

Advocates Alert: June 28, 2012

Congress appears poised to enact dedicated Gulf Coast restoration funding as part of a two-year Transportation Bill, but we're afraid the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) provisions overwhelmingly adopted by the Senate in March didn't survive in the final agreement. We built incredible momentum for LWCF with a statement signed by over 1,000 organizations -- now we need to translate that support into action on the Interior Appropriations Bill, where the House has proposed steep cuts.

Transportation Bill: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

-- The Good --

The best news in this bill is that it includes the RESTORE the Gulf Coast Act, which sends much of the Clean Water Act penalties associated with the 2010 Gulf spill back to the region for long term ecological restoration and economic development. The Alliance has been working through the Partnership for Gulf Coast Land Conservation to ensure that these funds are available to support conservation partnerships involving land trusts. It should be noted that the Senate bill was amended to require a governor's approval for land acquisition and it could take years for the courts to set the fines, but this is an exciting victory nonetheless. Read more from Restore the Mississippi River Delta.

The bill also reauthorizes the Wallop-Breaux Sport Fish Restoration Act, which sends taxes on motorboat fuel and boating equipment to the state fish and wildlife agencies. Learn more.

-- The Bad --

We are extremely disappointed that the final agreement eliminates the Senate provision to dedicate $1.4 billion to LWCF over the next two years, but we're proud of the land trust community and our champions in Congress for giving it every chance to survive. With your help, we gathered support letters signed by 32 House Republicans, 146 House Democrats, and over 1,000 organizations -- momentum we'll carry into the looming appropriations fight (see next story). Click here for talking points to thank our champions and urge them to highlight LWCF in their statements on the Transportation Bill.

-- The Ugly --

The bill cuts funding for greenways, trails, and historic preservation by merging the Transportation Enhancements, Safe Routes to School, and Recreational Trails programs, cutting their funding by about 30%, and making it easier for states to transfer these funds to road projects. Watch the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy Blog for updates.

House Interior Appropriations Bill Slashes Conservation

On the same day that Congress dropped LWCF from the Transportation Bill, the House Appropriations Committee passed a Fiscal Year 2013 Interior Appropriations Bill that slashes next year's LWCF funding by 80% to just $68 million, and effectively eliminates funding for new Forest Legacy projects. Funding levels for the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) and State Wildlife Grants (SWG) were also roughly cut in half to $22.3 million and $30.7 million respectively. See our table of funding levels for key programs.

These cuts are drastic, but there's reason for hope! The Interior numbers are actually slightly better than the initial House proposals for Fiscal Years 2011 and 2012. Last year, Senate appropriators stood firm and secured a modest increase in LWCF. We need your help persuading them to restore conservation funding again this year:

P.S. -
The House and Senate are also moving forward with Agriculture Appropriations bills (see table), but these numbers will likely change as the new Farm Bill advances.

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February 12: The House successfully voted 279-137, demonstrating a supermajority (67%) of support, on H.R. 644, a package of charitable incentives including the conservation tax incentive.Now we need your help in the Senate to secure co-sponsors! Sens. Heller and Stabenow have requested land trusts’ assistance in asking senators to cosponsor S. 330, the Conservation Easement Incentive Act. Learn more »

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