A Senate committee Tuesday approved a bill that would permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
The action by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee was one of several it took Tuesday on measures backed by U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., and Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo. Others that were approved by the committee and are supported by the two are bills to address a $12 billion National Park Service maintenance backlog, and to extend endangered fish recovery programs in the Upper Colorado and San Juan rivers through the 2023 fiscal year.
Gardner sits on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
Tuesday's action on the Land and Water Conservation Fund came after it expired Sunday due to a lack of congressional action to reauthorize it.
A bipartisan contingent in Congress is seeking to get legislation through the Senate and House to reauthorize the program. It dates back to 1964 and has resulted in nearly $270 million in spending in Colorado for purposes such as acquiring private inholdings surrounded by federal lands, and to help fund state and local trails and parks, including in Mesa County.
The fund is paid for by federal royalties from offshore oil and gas leasing.
It also expired a few years ago before Congress reauthorized it.
The measure approved Tuesday also would fully fund the program. Congress rarely appropriates the roughly $900 million a year in funding the legislation creating it allows.
"I've been fighting to protect the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and (Tuesday) was an important step for the Senate to move out of committee a bipartisan measure that permanently reauthorizes this critical program for Colorado's public lands," Gardner said in a news release after Tuesday's vote. "There is no excuse … why we can't get this done as there is a clear bipartisan consensus in both the House and Senate on the immense benefits of this crown jewel of conservation programs."
Bennet said in a release, "On Sunday, despite bipartisan support in both chambers, Congress failed to reauthorize LWCF — a widely popular conservation tool in Colorado and across the country. We must pass the bill approved (Tuesday) as soon as possible to ensure LWCF is permanently reauthorized and fully funded for the next generation of Coloradans."
Meanwhile, another measure the committee passed Tuesday seeks to reduce the National Park Service maintenance backlog by tapping half of existing unobligated revenues from on and offshore energy development — up to $1.3 billion per year — for the next five years, Gardner's office said.
In Colorado, that backlog amounts to more than $238 million, including nearly $20 million at Colorado National Monument, the Park Service says.
The endangered fish measure seeks to extend programs to protect four species in the Upper Colorado River Basin. It would maintain the programs' annual base funding and require a report on their implementation.