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Offshore drilling can help rebuild nation’s parks

Conserving our natural resources has long been tied to and directly supported by oil and gas development in the United States. This may seem counterintuitive to some, but offshore energy development revenues from qualified leases go right back into conservation initiatives throughout the United States via the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Established in 1964, the LWCF supports federal, state and local land, water and wetlands purchases to expand public access to public lands, so more Americans can experience the great outdoors. It also awards federal matching grants that leverage public and private investment in America’s state and local recreation sites, such as parks and trails. These investments strengthen our collective public and private conservation efforts and facilitate more outdoor recreation in communities throughout the country.

LWCF grants have helped state agencies and local communities acquire and develop nearly seven million acres of land and easements. Federal acquisition funds are used to acquire lands, waters, and easements necessary to achieve the natural, cultural, wildlife, and recreation management objectives of federal land management agencies.

In Ohio, the LWCF provides critical funding for everything from playgrounds and sports complexes, to wetlands and nature observation facilities. In the Village of Coldwater’s Memorial Park, LWCF money is helping to create three all-abilities playgrounds, where children and families can have fun and learn in safe, all inclusive, and accessible environments. In the City of Avon, the Veterans Memorial Park is receiving funds to expand in size. Ohio has received more than $5 million this year through this program for these types of projects and will continue to receive funding to improve outdoor recreation and conservation.

While more than $4.4 billion has been made available to state and local governments for more than 44,000 projects since the program was created, the LWCF has only been fully funded twice since it was created 56 years ago — a broken promise to the American people. When President Trump signed the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) into law this year, he secured permanent funding for the LWCF into perpetuity at $900 million per year, which effectively doubles the funding for the program in less than five years.

The Great American Outdoors Act is a major milestone for conserving our nation’s natural resources. It also provides funding for the National Park Service and Public Lands Legacy Restoration Fund for five years. The GAOA will provide up to $9.5 billion over the next five years for infrastructure projects in our national parks, forests and wildlife refuges. Native American schools will also benefit from the fund as they will receive $475 million of this money to upgrade and maintain their educational facilities.

As the acting director for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, I’m pleased to say that the largest source of funding for the LWCF is offshore oil and gas royalties. In fact, just last year, offshore oil and gas production contributed nearly $5 billion in direct payments to federal, state and local governments, and supported more than 275,000 jobs and about $60 billion worth of economic output across our nation.

This country is home to 422 national parks, 568 wildlife refuges, and many other public recreation sites across the 500 million acres of public lands the Department of the Interior is entrusted to manage. All will derive great benefits from the permanent funding of the LWCF. It was President Theodore Roosevelt, famous for extending federal protection to land and wildlife, who said: “There can be no greater issue than that of conservation in this country.”

Ensuring offshore energy development is accomplished in the safest and most environmentally friendly way has significant economic, national security and even conservation benefits for every states, particularly Ohio.

Walter Cruickshank, Ph.D., is acting director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, U.S. Department of the Interior.

columns@tribtoday.com

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