Washington Watch, January 2012
On December 23, President Obama signed into law the Fiscal Year 2012 Omnibus Appropriations bill, thus completing the annual budget and appropriations process. This Omnibus bill covers 9 of the 12 individual appropriations bills; the other 3 were included in a "minibus" approved by Congress in late November. Despite the significant focus in Washington on cutting spending, many conservation programs survived the FY 2012 budget process in relatively good standing. The Land and Water Conservation Fund, for example, received a 7 percent increase over last year's levels, the Community Forest program level was doubled, the US Forest Service land acquisition account received a 60 % increase, and the LWCF state grants program got a 12.5 % increase.
These results buck the overall trend of continued spending reductions required in the July 2011 deficit reduction agreement - and hopefully bode well for conservation programs going into the federal FY 2013 budget and appropriations process. This outcome also represents a true conservation success in a Congress that at times seemed to be targeting environmental programs as job-killing.
Below are two tables that summarize LWCF funding provisions and list out other relevant conservation program levels for FY 2012, with a comparison to last year’s levels and the President’s budget proposals.
LWCF Funding Comparison Chart
|FY11 Enacted||FY 12 President’s Budget||Final FY 12 Omnibus|
|CESCF (Sec. 6)||$31m||$100m*||$25m|
The FY 12 President’s budget included Sect 6 planning grants in LWCF calculations, but that program is not authorized to be funded out of LWCF and was shifted out in the final appropriations bill.
|Other Programs||FY 11 enacted||FY 12 Budget||FY 12 enacted|
|Community Forest Program||$1m||$5m||$2m|
|Clean Water SRF||$1.525b||$1.550b||$1.468b|
|Drinking Water SRF||$965m||$990m||$919.363m|
|EPA Brownfields STAG project grants||$99.8m||$99.041m||$95m|
|EPA Brownfields catergorical grants||$49.396m||$49.495m||$49.396m|
|Community Development block grants||$3.5b||$3.781b||$2.948b|
|Wetlands Reserve Program (in acres)||202,218 ac./td>||271.158 ac.||185,800 ac.|
As the year came to an end, a highlight for conservation spending has been the growing support in the U.S. Senate for S. 1265, the Land and Water Conservation Authorization and Funding Act of 2011.
Led by U.S. Senators Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Max Baucus (D-MT), this active co-sponsorship drive has and will continue to garner a growing list of bipartisan support in 2012 that now stands at 27, including three Republicans - U.S. Senators Scott Brown (R-MA), Richard Burr (R-NC), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC).
S. 1265 is an important piece of legislation that would provide dedicated annual funding of $900 million to the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) as authorized by Congress. Since LWCF is paid for using a very small percentage of offshore oil and gas drilling receipts, and not taxpayer dollars, this legislation would finally end the diversion of LWCF funds for unrelated purposes.
Though LWCF received a small increase in FY 2012, the final appropriated level of $322 million is still only one-third of the total amount that is deposited in the LWCF account each year and well below levels needed to ensure protection of critical lands across the country.
Over the past year, the annual budget and appropriations process has cut conservation funding disproportionately to its benefits. Key programs such as the Land and Water Conservation Fund, State and Tribal Wildlife Grants and EPA programs have been slashed by more than 30 percent, in contrast to overall non-defense discretionary spending, which has been cut by just 7 percent.
These cuts to conservation threaten the future of our country's environmental and economic health, undermining the infrastructure that ensures we have clean air to breathe, water to drink, land to enjoy, and habitat for our country's wildlife.
Last year, The Trust for Public Land (TPL) studied the Return on Investment from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, finding that for every $1 invested from LWCF spending on federal units sampled in the study, returned $4 in economic value.
Since 2007, TPL has completed economic value studies in 12 cities or counties, five of which were in the past year. You can find 10 of them on TPL's Website.
Over the past few months, there have been several other reports released by other organizations highlighting the importance of land conservation to our national and local economies. These reports support federal funding for land conservation such as the Land and Water Conservation Fund as a means to invest in local economies that rely on tourism and recreation.
Below is a list of the recent reports from other organizations:
The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, October 2011 - The Economics Associated with Outdoor Recreation, Natural Resources Conservation and Historic Preservation in the United States. Conducted by Southwick Associates, this report demonstrates that the great outdoors and historic preservation generate a conservative estimate of more than $1 trillion in total economic activity and support 9.4 million jobs each year. Other highlights in the study include:
- In 2006, the total contribution from outdoor sports in the United States was nearly $730 billion per year, generating more than 6.4 million U.S. jobs and $99 billion in federal and state tax revenues. This includes hunting, fishing, wildlife viewing and other outdoor sports that include hiking, camping, skiing, paddle sports and bicycling.
- In 2006, the combined spending effect of hunting, fishing and wildlife watching associated with National Forest Service land totaled $9.5 billion in annual retail sales, supported 189,400 jobs and provided $1.01 billion in annual federal tax revenues.
- Every million dollars invested in residential historic rehabilitation generates approximately 36 jobs, $1.24 million in income and nearly $200,000 in state and local taxes.
- In 2010, 15 million visitors to Civil War battlefields managed by the National Park Service in just five states (Missouri, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia) generated 7,700 jobs.
National Wildlife Federation Report, October 2011 - How Congress Can Lower the Deficit and Protect Wildlife & Public Health. One example highlighted in this report by the National Wildlife Federation is the planned expansion of Petrified Forest National Park, a unique geological marvel and popular tourist attraction that has more than 600,000 visitors each year. The Land and Water Conservation Fund provided the funds to expand the park by approximately 26,000 acres. In 2009 alone, the National Park Service estimated that non-local visitors to this park added more than $21 million to the local economy and contributed to 593 local jobs. Cutting funding for the LWCF would limit future additions to our national parks and cause us to lose the economic benefits that they provide.
National Park Conservation Association Report, November 2011 – Made in America: Investing in National Parks for Our Heritage and Our Economy. Funding for the National Parks is under severe threat. In today’s dollars, the overall appropriation for the National Park Service (NPS) is nearly $400 million (or 13%) less than it was 10 years ago. National parks not only protect our heritage; they are important to local economies nationwide. A recent study commissioned by NPCA found that every federal dollar invested in national parks generates at least four dollars in direct economic impact to the economy— supporting more than $13 billion of direct local private-sector economic activity and nearly 270,000 private sector jobs. Some parks, like Acadia NP, produce as much as $16 in economic benefit for every dollar invested.
Headwaters Economics, November 2011 - Economists Urge President Obama to Protect Federal Public Lands. More than 100 economists and academics in related fields concluded through examining peer reviewed research that federal protected public lands are essential to the West's economic future. These public lands, including national parks, wilderness areas and national monuments, attract innovative companies and workers, and are an essential component of the region's competitive advantage. The West's public lands contribute to our economic well being in a variety of ways, including resource extraction and recreation. These activities can and must coexist with expanding protections for America's world-class natural amenities. In a letter to President Obama, these economists and academics issued a strong call for the President to “create jobs and support businesses by investing in our public lands infrastructure and establishing new protected areas such as parks, wilderness, and monuments.”
AGO 50-State Report
In November, Secretary Salazar released a 50-State America’s Great Outdoors Report listing more than 100 projects designed to protect areas and increase access to outdoor as a result of 50 meetings with governors and stakeholders held by Secretary Salazar and other senior Interior officials. The report contains two projects per state selected from a larger list of projects submitted by each state to the Secretary and is part of President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors (AGO) initiative. The report includes:
24 projects to restore and provide recreational access to rivers and other waterways
23 projects to construct new trails or improve recreational sites
20 projects that will create and enhance urban parks
13 projects that will restore and conserve America’s landscapes
The list also includes 11 initiatives requested by states to establish new national wildlife refuges, national park units and other federal designations; five projects that will assist states and communities to protect key open space; and five initiatives to educate young people and connect them to nature.
To view the press release and report, please click here.
The Obama Administration also issued an AGO initiative progress report in mid October that identified progress to date on key AGO goals and laid out some specific next steps for continued work under the initiative in the coming year.
To view the AGO progress report, please click here.
LWCF Stateside Competitive Grants
One of the major themes of the America’s Great Outdoors (AGO) Initiative launched by the Obama Administration in April, 2010, is creation of new parks, trails and greenspaces in our nation’s cities. One new idea advanced through the AGO initiative is the use of grants to states through the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) for a competitive grant program aimed at cities. The program would focus a portion of LWCF funds and broaden guidelines for state comprehensive outdoor recreation plans to support urban parks and green spaces. This proposal was included in the President’s FY 2012 budget, which recommended a total of $200 million in state LWCF grants, with $78 million distributed to states through a formula and $116 million allocated for a competitive component targeted at community parks and green spaces, landscape-style conservation, and recreational waterways. The goal of these grants would be to fund “signature projects” that create more outdoor recreational opportunities and conserve open space where access to natural areas has been unavailable.
TPL is working with other city park enthusiasts to help the National Park Service develop criteria to successfully implement this innovative approach to funding new parks and recreational opportunities in cities. TPL’s work in cities across the country and our leadership on city park issues through the Center for City Park Excellence and our Visioning services allow us to bring critical expertise to this issue and help ensure that new funding for cities can be put to best use.
We are also working closely with many mayors in cities across the country to help transform public green spaces and create safe places for children to play.
In November, over 50 Mayors wrote to President Obama urging robust funding for the LWCF in order to ensure opportunities for parks in cities.
Here is TPL’s press release praising the Mayors that includes a link to their letter.
When Congress last passed a multiyear transportation bill (SAFETEA-LU) in 2005, it was set to expire on September 30, 2009. Because the current gas tax does not produce enough revenue to support existing transportation programs, Congress has been struggling to pass another multi-year bill and has only succeeded to date in passing 7 short-term extensions. The current one expires March 31, 2012.
On November 9, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved a 2-year transportation bill (MAP-21, S. 1813) that would continue funding transportation programs at current levels while taking into account inflation. The bill proposes changes to nonmotorized programs, including Transportation Enhancements (TE), Safe Routes to School (SRTS), the Recreational Trails Program (RTP), and the National Scenic Byways Program. Instead of reauthorizing multiple small programs, the bill consolidates them under umbrellas and lists eligible activities. States may use funds for all of these activities through the new Transportation Mobility Program and all of them (except Scenic Byways) through the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Program. The bill also gives states more flexibility as they determine how much funding is to be allocated to these programs and activities. Additionally, the bill authorizes a Federal Lands Access Program to replace aspects of the Public Lands Highways program.
The Senate's bill now waits for action in the Senate’s Finance and Commerce, Science and Transportation committees, which share jurisdiction. The Senate Finance Committee has the toughest job: finding $12 billion in revenues to cover shortfalls in the bill from the Highway Trust Fund. Until this gap is bridged, the bill will likely not be brought to the Senate floor.
In the House, discussion about a new transportation bill has centered on using energy development to either pay for spending or as a link for spurring the economy. One of the proposals was to use revenues from the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) to fund transportation programs. This is the same source of money that has been used since the late 1960s to fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). On December 22, a bipartisan group of 130 Representatives sent a letter to Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi urging them to keep the congressional commitment to LWCF as it examines the disposition of OCS revenues.
Congress adjourned for the year without extending the conservation tax incentive that encourages landowners to donate conservation easements. While Congress agreed after much wrangling to extend temporarily the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits, no action was taken on a multitude of other tax provisions that expire December 31, 2011 or during 2012. This is disappointmenting news for landowners and those in the land trust community who recognize the importance of this conservation tool. If history is any guide, however, it is likely that the incentive will be extended sometime next year and made retroactive.
In 2011 two bills, H.R. 1964 introduced by Representatives Jim Gerlach (R-PA) and Mike Thompson (D-CA) and S. 339 introduced by Senator Max Baucus, were introduced to extend the conservation tax incentive permanently. H.R. 1964 currently has 289 cosponsors, an impressive number that should encourage Congress to act in early 2012 to extend the provision. Enactment of H.R. 1964 or S. 339 will allow taxpayers to continue to deduct up to 50% of adjusted gross income (AGI) for donations or bargain sales of qualified conservation easements. Eligible farmers and ranchers can deduct up to 100% of AGI, and taxpayers are able to carry forward these deductions for 15 years. This special incentive for conservation easement donations addresses the needs of landowners whose wealth is in land rather than in cash.
A permanent extension will eliminate the uncertainty that surrounds this provision as Congress routinely enacts temporary one or two-year extensions. Extending these after the incentive has expired creates a lack of confidence that has made it difficult for some landowners to commit to the donations of easements. Senator Baucus, as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, recently stated that “reaching a permanent agreement on expiring tax cuts must be our top priority.”
Permanent extension remains the goal and the conservation community will continue to press energetically for this outcome, but the need to act quickly in 2012 makes it likely that once again there will be another short-term retroactive extension.
The 2008 Farm Bill will expire at the end of Fiscal Year 2012. Congress must either approve a new multi-year bill or agree to a short term extension beyond the November 2012 election.
During the Congressional Super-committee negotiations, the respective Chairs and Ranking Members of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees reached agreement on a compromise Farm Bill. The expectation was that the bipartisan Farm Bill would be attached to the Super-committee’s deficit reduction legislation.
U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, the Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman, has indicated that despite the super-committee’s failure, she wants to press on with the draft proposal as the basis for a new Farm Bill in 2012.
The draft Farm Bill is not public, but committee staff has revealed to conservation organizations that the bill would propose a consolidated conservation easement program: The Farm and Ranchland Protection Program would be consolidated with the Grasslands Reserve Program and Wetlands Reserve Program into an Agriculture Conservation Easement Program. The exact language and dollar amounts have not been shared, but committee staff claims that the consolidation was proposed to avoid major cuts to these programs. When additional information becomes available, Washington Watch will report back with an update.
Additionally, the FRPP program recently received an extension through Fiscal Year 2014. The program had been set to expire at the end of Fiscal Year 2012. However, a two-year authorization extension was included in the latest Agriculture appropriations law, which was enacted last month.