America has had this program for the last 50 years, but without Congressional reauthorization the Land and Water Conservation Fund will vanish when it expires on Sept. 30. And with it goes the bipartisan promise to safeguard this country’s natural areas, water resources and our cultural heritage.
LWCF takes a small portion of royalties from offshore oil and gas development and invests that money in protecting America's most important lands for future generations – whether that be our iconic national parks or an urban neighborhood playground. This could not be simpler – as we extract natural resources, we should in turn protect and invest in other resources.
And that investment at zero cost to taxpayers is miniscule. Even if the LWCF was fully funded at its cap of $900 million, which has only happened once in its 50-year history, it would only equate to about .03 percent of the total federal budget.
Taking this into account, it’s no surprise that the majority of the Americans support the reauthorization of LWCF. The 2015 Colorado College Conservation in the West poll found that 75 percent of those surveyed want the funding to continue. This is equally true among Latinos, who are becoming a leading voice on conservation issues affecting the nation.
And it’s the Latino community that provides an interesting opportunity for elected officials supporting LWCF reauthorization.
Numerous polls have shown just how important the environment is to Latinos. Last year, Hispanic Access Foundation published a research brief with leading pollster Latino Decisions that analyzed nine public opinion polls finding that Latinos overwhelming support greater environmental protections, such as preserving parks and public lands, so much so that conservation issues could influence voting decisions in the mid-term elections.
Then earlier this summer, HAF released a groundbreaking study from Latino Decisions that found evidence that Latinos' stated concerns for the environment and protection of America's public lands is demonstrated at the voting booth – and impacts policy. The research brief analyzed the results of four 2014 environmental ballot initiatives from Florida, California, Colorado and New Mexico. Experts determined that Latinos' voting habits on these state ballot initiatives closely correlated with their stated support for conservation. Moreover, in some states, Latino voters were a key factor in the passage of the environmental ballot initiative.
A rapidly growing and influential voting bloc, Latinos are beginning to turn their political power toward environmental issues. For elected officials looking at how to best engage, gain support from and represent the Latino community, LWCF provides a crucial opportunity to do so.
LWCF has been instrumental in creating, protecting and providing access to public lands not just for the Latino community, but also for everyone across the nation - and at no cost to taxpayers.
It’s time for Republicans and Democrats to fortify the bipartisan promise made to protect America’s public lands, water resources and cultural heritage. It’s time for Congress to reauthorize and dedicate full funding to LWCF.
By Maite Arce