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Congress Heads to Recess - LWCF and Other Critical Programs Await Further Action

As the August congressional recess begins, the fiscal year (FY) 2014 appropriation process has come to an abrupt halt, with many programs important to landscape architects hanging in the balance.

On Wednesday, July 31, the House Appropriations Committee delayed further action on the Fiscal Year 2014 Interior-Environment Appropriations Bill. During an abbreviated mark-up session, the Committee worked through numerous amendments, but will not continue work on the bill until after recess.

Currently, the bill provides $24.3 billion for the Department of Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and related agencies, which would be 19 percent, less than the fiscal year 2013 enacted level. The bill proposes severe cuts to federal loan programs intended to repair deteriorating water infrastructure in the United States. Clean Water and Safe Drinking Water State Revolving Funds are cut by 83 percent and 61 percent, respectively. Overall, the EPA is funded at $5.5 billion, which is $2.8 billion or 34 percent below the fiscal year 2013 enacted level.  

 Notably, the draft bill provides zero funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The LWCF, which is already paid for through a small portion of revenue from offshore drilling, funds natural resource conservation and outdoor recreation programs. While Congress has agreed to put as much as $900 million into the fund every year, this total has never been reached. In FY2013, LWCF received about $332 million. Zeroing out LWCF funding would have severe implications for federal land acquisition efforts and many community park and recreation projects. Established in 1965, LWCF is paid for with offshore oil and natural gas receipts. Nearly 50 years ago, Congress made a commitment to the American public that a small portion of revenues from offshore drilling would go to natural resource conservation and outdoor recreation programs as an offset for the depletion of the offshore oil and gas resources that belong to American citizens.

Concerned about the impact these cuts would have on the projects that landscape architects plan and design, ASLA Executive Vice President and CEO Nancy Somerville, Hon. ASLA, immediately blasted a letter to each member of the House Appropriations Committee urging them to restore funding for these vital programs that are providing critical services for communities across the country. In her letter, Somerville also noted that landscape architects access these programs to plan and design much-needed green infrastructure and parks and recreation projects in local communities.

Before the recess, Senate appropriators also unveiled an Interior-Environment spending bill, which provides $30.8 billion to the Department of Interior, EPA, and related agencies. Unlike the House version of the bill, the Senate bill funds the LWCF at $400 million. The Senate bill also includes language to fund the Urban Parks and Recreation Recovery program (UPARR) at 10 million dollars. The program, which has not been funded since 2002, provides assistance to urban localities for the rehabilitation of recreation facilities. This type of program utilizes the expertise of landscape architects to plan and design park and recreation infrastructure. There is no mention of UPARR in the House bill. Both the House and Senate appear to be in agreement on funding for the National Park Service, with both chambers proposing about 2.3 billion dollars to fund the agency.

Congress will return on September 9 to continue deliberations on the fiscal year 2014 federal budget. With only nine legislative days before the fiscal year 2013 ends, legislators will have limited time to come to an agreement on spending levels for these and other programs. ASLA will continue to monitor and weigh in on appropriations bills that will have important implications for landscape architects.

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