California Off-Road Recreation and Conservation Act
Last month the House Natural Resources Committee took an important step by unanimously approving H.R. 857, the California Off-Road Recreation and Conservation Act. The legislation, as introduced by Rep. Paul Cook (R-CA.), would among other things designate six existing Bureau of Land Management off-highway vehicle recreation areas as congressionally designated “Off-Highway Vehicle Recreation Areas.” We have worked very closely with Rep. Cook on this legislation and we are very pleased with the progress to date.
The importance of elevating these six areas to national status, as designated by the Congress, means that a future Administration will not be able to eliminate OHV usage by simply rewriting a management plan for any of these areas. This alone makes this a very important piece of legislation for the OHV recreation community.
The legislation also creates a national scenic area of 18,000 acres in Inyo County, California, designates 129,000 acres as Wilderness in the California Desert, adds 35,000 acres to the Death Valley National Park and releases approximately 154,000 acres of existing wilderness study areas for other purposes such as recreational and economic use. Finally, the legislation also addresses a host of other minor federal public lands issues in California.
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA.) has introduced in the Senate companion legislation to H.R. 857, S. 32. As with Rep. Cook, we are working closely with the Feinstein office on her legislation as well. We are hoping that passage of the Cook legislation in the House will serve to spur Senate action on the Feinstein bill. We will keep you up to date on further progress on this critically important legislation.
The Congressional Budget Control Act of 1974 provides the means for any Administration to submit to Congress a list of spending items it would like to have rescinded. When President Trump signed into law the Omnibus Appropriations for Fiscal Year 2018, he was very vocal in expressing his displeasure about some of the spending priorities contained in the massive piece of legislation.
While President Trump proposed a package of $15.4 billion in rescissions, he isn’t the first president to exercise this authority. President Reagan proposed more than $43 billion in rescissions. President Clinton proposed a whopping $128 million in rescissions. President George H.W. Bush came in at $13 billion and President Ford had rescissions totaling $8 billion. Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama chose not to submit any rescissions to the Congress.
Under the 1974 Act, the Congress has 45 consecutive days of session to take action on the request. For the rescissions to take effect, both chambers must approve by a simple majority vote. If no action is taken by either body, the issue fails. The Trump proposal spared the Department of the Interior from any cuts and the Forest Service is proposed to take a slight hit of $16 million for its Land Acquisition program.
The deadline for congressional action is around July 10, 2018, give or take a few days.
FY 2019 Appropriations
Even though FY 2018 spending is still a topic of discussion, (i.e. rescissions), progress is being made on spending measures for the upcoming fiscal year. The House of Representatives has a goal of passing separately all 13 individual appropriations measures for FY 2019, and we think this goal is within reach.
The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and Related Agencies completed its work on May 15th. We expect full committee action on the bill shortly after the House returns from the Memorial Day recess.
The overall spending level for FY 2019 for Interior and Related Agencies is the same as FY 2018, $35.252 billion. Keep in mind, however, the FY 2018 figure was $3 billion more than received in FY 2017. The actual spending allocated to various accounts in the new fiscal year is different than the previous year. For example, the Forest Service is slated to receive a $48 million increase in FY 2019 along with another $450 million planned for hazardous fuel reduction. Likewise, BLM resource management will see its budget increased by $65 million.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) would receive a haircut from FY 2018 funding. That year LWCF for the various land agencies was set at $200 million. FY 2019 funding for LWCF was set by the subcommittee at $141.1 million. Given that the Federal Government has difficulty taking care of the property it already owns, ARRA believes that further land acquisition should be curtailed. Keeping LWCF funding in check is one way of accomplishing that goal.
We expect the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and Related Agencies will begin its work by mid-June, at the latest. Once we have the Senate’s spending numbers for the federal land agencies, we will have a better picture on what to expect for FY 2019.
Recreational Trails Program (RTP)
June 5th marks the day that the Coalition for Recreational Trails (CRT) will formally recognize the 2018 CRT Award winners for outstanding trail projects funded with RTP funds. These awards are given out for both motorized and non-motorized trails projects throughout the country at a special event on Capitol Hill. ARRA is a member of CRT.
The CRT Awards highlight the importance and the success of the Recreational Trails Program by bringing together outdoor enthusiasts of all stripes to celebrate an amazing federal program funded through the fuel tax receipts paid by motorized recreation.
Looking ahead to further strengthening the funding level of RTP, legislation is being prepared to address this issue. Once the legislation is finalized and introduced, we will be telling you more about it in a future ARRA newsletter.
While summer might not yet be officially recognized by the calendar, it sure feels like it here in the Nation’s Capital. More people are outside and those of us who work in offices dream of being outside. Now is the time to plan those summer adventures. Be sure to make motorized recreation a part of your 2018 summer experience.
Larry E. Smith
Americans for Responsible Recreational Access