Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) is calling on House Democrats to delay an expected Wednesday vote on major conservation legislation because the Covid-19 pandemic has significantly reduced the source of the bill’s funding.
A new report from the Congressional Research Service showed an 84% reduction in the government’s royalty collections from offshore oil and gas production in May compared to the same month last year. The Interior Department’s Office of Natural Resources Revenue also reported a 53% decline in onshore oil and gas royalty collections for the same time frame.
The bipartisan Great American Outdoors Act (H.R. 1957) would provide mandatory funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund at its $900 million annual authorized level. The legislation also would create a $9.5 billion trust fund for several agencies to tackle the nearly $20 billion maintenance backlog in national parks and on public lands.
Offshore oil and gas revenues primarily fund the LWCF. The new trust fund would be comprised of unallocated onshore and offshore revenues from energy production on federal lands and waters.
‘It’s Time to Pass This Now’
In fiscal 2019, the Office of Natural Resources Revenue disbursed $5.85 billion in revenues from offshore leases, of which $1.1 billion went to the LWCF.
“The COVID-19 pandemic and accompanying recession have significantly affected energy and mineral prices, production, and consumption,” said the CRS report. “Many observers expect energy consumption will remain below 2019 levels through at least 2021. The effects of these changes on federal energy revenues and disbursements for FY2020 and beyond will unfold over time.”
The report also said: “Some programs (e.g., the LWCF) receive disbursements up to a specified limit; in such cases, royalties could fall but remain sufficient to fund such programs.”
Bishop was the lead sponsor of H.R. 1225, the bill that would create the new trust fund for the maintenance backlog that was incorporated into the Great American Outdoors Act.
But the Utah Republican opposes mandatory funding for the LWCF because of concerns over more federal land acquisition. He unsuccessfully tried to amend the conservation legislation during a Rules Committee meeting on the package July 17, which the panel hustled through without amendment.
“Given what has been confirmed by the Congressional Research Service and knowing how this language is drafted, it would be ludicrous for House Democrats to move forward with this bill without amendment,” Bishop said in a statement Monday. “The core provisions of H.R. 1957 reply upon unobligated receipts from energy development on federal lands and waters, and the CRS has just confirmed that these revenue streams have evaporated due to the pandemic.”
Natural Resources Chairman Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) dismissed Bishop’s call for a delay on the Great American Outdoors Act vote.
“We’ve been delaying full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund since 1965. It’s time to pass this now,” Grijalva said in a statement.