Conservation groups are pushing South Carolina’s congressional delegation to reauthorize funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which expired in September.
“The Land and Water Conservation Fund is our nation’s most successful conservation program,” Conservation Voters of South Carolina executive director John Tynan said. “The Land and Water Conservation Fund has contributed almost $300 million to South Carolina and funded projects in every single one of South Carolina’s 46 counties.”
The fund expired September 30 after Congress failed to renew its authorization. It was created in 1965 to help agencies preserve access to a outdoor resources for recreational and conservation purposes. The money helps public groups acquire land at fair market value.
Tynan, appearing with U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson on Wednesday, said the issue is bipartisan. “Land protection is immensely popular both politically and economically,” Tynan said. “Citizens care about land protection. They care about protecting these special places we all love.”
Historically, the fund has paid more than $295 million in projects in South Carolina. It initially expired in 2015, but supporters were able to secure a three-year extension.
“Congress will be meeting the week after the election and right away during the balance of November, I’m confident we can make this the bipartisan effort it should be,” Wilson said.
Wilson said he is working with House Natural Resources Committee chairman U.S. Rep. Ron Bishop, R-UT, on a bill which would permanently authorize the fund. Money for the fund comes from royalties paid from offshore oil and gas leasing.
Wilson said he wants to use revenues from offshore oil and gas leases to support the fund. $900 million in royalties paid by energy companies drilling for oil and gas on the Outer Continental Shelf are put into this fund each year.
“This is not being funded with taxpayers dollars directly,” Wilson said. “It’s actually royalties on the offshore drilling. The royalties are used to promote a clean environment.”
To show the impact the fund has had on South Carolina environmental projects, the CVSC took Second District Congressman Joe Wilson on a canoe ride down the Saluda River. Saluda Shoals Park outside Columbia was built with help from the fund.
“I’m looking forward to going canoeing,” Wilson said, dressed in khakis and a button-down shirt for the occasion. “John (Tynan) assures me I’m not going fall in.”