SALT LAKE CITY -- Over the past five decades, more than $171 million have flowed into Utah through the Land and Water Conservation Fund. As chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources, Congressman Rob Bishop turned off the flow of that money, temporarily, last week.
“What we are doing now is a violation of the law and I’m not going to go forward with allowing this administration to continue to violate the law so that they can have money with which to play,” said Bishop during a FOX 13 News exclusive interview Monday.
Bishop is critical of reauthorizing the fund without reviewing how it is operating. He said the fund is meant to send 40% of its money to state managed projects. He added that number has dropped to 16%.
“I’m not going to allow the agencies just to squirrel the money away and play with it. It’s not their play thing. It has to be accounted, it has to be solving a problem,” Bishop said.
The LWCF has wide bi-partisan support, and Bishop’s hard stance is drawing wide criticism.
President Barack Obama indirectly called out Bishop saying in his weekly online public address, “Republicans in Congress should reauthorize and fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund without delay.”
The New York Times was more direct. In an opinion piece published on Friday, the paper wrote of Bishop: “He’s the villain in this piece, a grim-faced ideologue who clearly doesn’t like public land or parks.”
“I like lands, public lands that are actually controlled by people who live here in the public. I don’t like our public lands, our federal lands to be controlled by somebody in Washington,” Bishop said in response.
Bishop doesn’t like not knowing where the money is being spent.
The congressman signed a letter to the Secretary of Interior, Sally Jewell, and Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, calling for an accounting of how the LWCF has been spent, which pieces of land funds have acquired and details about those lands such as if they have been surveyed and if public recreational uses have been approved.
“These lands should be here for our access, our ability, our use and we should have the say on what’s being done and that’s simply not what’s being done with the Land Water Conservation Act right now,” Bishop said.
The LWCF can spend $300 million a year.
Bishop said he is not opposed to raising its limit to the full authorization amount of $900 million granted changes are made to how the money is spent.
His top priority is more state control over the dollars, but Bishop also wants to see a re-investment in the industry that pays the royalties, oil and gas.
Bishop favors using some of the money to pay for education and training programs for jobs in the oil and gas industry.
“Now Congress has to do its job,” said President Obama in reference to renewing the LWCF.
Critics argue the delay is halting projects that were already planned. Bishop said that’s not true. He added the fund has billions of dollars already dedicated, enough to fund projects at its current pace for the next 70 years.
But Bishop does agree, the LWCF is a good program.
“I have every intention of re-authorizing the money,” said Bishop. He plans to introduce his own public lands management plan, including a re-authorization of the LWCF by the end of October.