Van Drew Bill Draws GOP Support and Environmentalists’ Praise

By Rick Mellerup | Jun 19, 2019
Jeff Van Drew (D- NJ 2)

Washington, D.C. — Democratic Congressman Jeff Van Drew, who took office this past January, is wasting no time following in the footsteps of two of his longtime Republican predecessors who represented Southern Ocean County. Jim Saxton, who represented Southern Ocean County from 1993 through 2009, and Frank LoBiondo, who was the congressman for all of Southern Ocean County – except half of Stafford Township and all of Barnegat Township after district lines were redrawn after the 2010 census – until the beginning of this year when he retired, were fervid supporters of their district’s wildlife preserves. Now Van Drew is taking up that cause as well.

Van Drew introduced legislation titled the Land and Water Conservation Fund Permanent Funding Act last Wednesday. The LWCF was created way back in 1964 to provide matching funds to federal, state and local governments when they wanted to acquire land and water for parks and protected wildlife areas. The primary source of income to the fund is fees and royalties from offshore oil and gas drilling in federal water.

The LWCF is authorized with a budget cap of $900 million annually. But that cap has been met only twice in the program’s existence, with Congress commonly diverting funds for other purposes. As Van Drew’s office explained, “Congress has routinely underfunded the program by 50 percent or more each year.”

“To date, more than $20 billion in potential LWCF funds have been diverted elsewhere,” claims the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

A new law was passed earlier this year that included permanent LWCF reauthorization. That ensures LWCF won’t become a political football in the future. The law, though, didn’t ensure full funding. Van Drew’s legislation, which was also introduced by Brian Fitzpatrick, a Republican from Pennsylvania, would do so, prohibiting future congresses and administrations from raiding the fund.

“This bill is the epitome of everything it means to work together in a bipartisan way to get things done here in Congress,” said Van Drew at a press conference announcing the legislation. “It is an example of something that we can agree on. Together with Rep. Fitzpatrick, Chair Grijalva (Raul Grijalva, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee) and many others, we figured out a way to get something done that means something, that won’t cost a single taxpayer dollar, and that protects our parks and lands. For over 50 years, the Lands and Water Conservation Fund has invested over $350 million for some of New Jersey’s most significant natural areas such as the Cape May National (and Edwin B. Forsythe National) Wildlife Refuge which provides access for recreational hunting, fishing, and other outdoor experiences like birding. Permanently reauthorizing LWCF was an important step, but now we need to finish the job and ensure that the funds intended to create parks and protect open spaces actually get utilized for those purposes. Our bipartisan bill is a win for taxpayers, good governance and future generations of Americans.”

“This ongoing bipartisan support for LWCF is really a testament to the work of the people here today,” added Grijalva. “I’m grateful for the leadership of Rep. Van Drew, who is championing this bill. We need to pass this legislation to ensure the LWCF can live up to its full potential.”

Several major organizations, including the League of Conservation Voters, the Outdoor Industry Association, the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, New Jersey Audubon, the Coalition for the Delaware Watershed, the Trust for Public Land, the Conservation Fund and the Nature Conservancy, added to the praise accorded Van Drew.

But even with many GOP supporters, can Van Drew’s bill possibly be passed in a Congress that is more divided than possibly anytime since before the Civil War? The reauthorization legislation was passed by a 363-62 vote in the House and a 92-8 vote in the Senate back in February. Meanwhile, a bill similar to Van Drew’s in the Senate has also attracted the support of several Republicans.

Rick Mellerup

rickmellerup@thesandpaper.net

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