The Congressional Black Caucus Foundation (CBCF) recently held its 45th Annual Legislative Conference (ALC), which was a resounding success. Now, I believe, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) will be faced with the challenge of pursuing the numerous important goals outlined during the conference: ensuring justice and opportunity for all Americans, protecting voting rights, and expanding access to education and health care.
A lesser known priority, but one that is no less urgent, is the reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which is set to expire on September 30.
The same Congress that passed the Voting Rights Act in 1965 created the LWCF. The Fund, which is cost-free to the taxpayer, uses royalties from offshore oil and gas leases to protect national parks, national forests, wildlife refuges, and recreation areas – preventing them from being lost to development.
Near my own district, Everglades National Park and the Everglades ecosystem benefit significantly from the LWCF. The continuing efforts to restore this piece of America’s heritage have already increased access to outdoor recreation in the Everglades, reduced urban sprawl, protected our water supply, and helped local economies. Many of these restoration efforts would not be possible without the LWCF.
Indeed, LWCF matching grants have helped every county in the nation stretch their budgets further to create parks and playgrounds in urban and rural communities. The Fund even protects clean water supplies by helping cities to restore river ways.
Congressional reauthorization of the LWCF seems like a no-brainer. Yet, funding for the program is in jeopardy, and Congress is threatening to not re-authorize it.
If the Fund is allowed to expire, it will have hugely negative consequences for African-American communities across the country. We already have fewer local parks and playgrounds and our communities suffer from greater incidents of toxic air and water pollution, higher rates of obesity, asthma, and other illnesses. We benefit less than any other ethnic group from the national parks and forests that are our birthright, and are at greater risk to be inundated by rising sea levels and other effects of climate change.
Our young people deserve safe, accessible local parks and playgrounds in which to play and thrive, clean air to breathe, and clean water to drink.
I proudly sponsored a panel at the ALC, titled: “Public Lands, Environment & Conservation: Peril & Opportunity for African Americans,” Panelists highlighted how parks increase the livability of communities and keep people from having to move away to new communities.
African Americans have a long and valiant history in this country, and much of it is written on the land. In the past few years, President Obama has used his authority to protect places where African Americans made tremendous contributions. Recent additions to the National Park System include the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument in Maryland, the Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument in Ohio, and the Fort Monroe National Monument in Virginia, where the first enslaved Africans arrived in America and where some of those same people gained their freedom during the Civil War.
As a proud member of the Congressional Black Caucus, I call upon my colleagues to support reauthorization of the LWCF. More than 165 Members of the House of Representatives already support H.R. 1814, legislation introduced by my good friend and colleague Congressman Raul Grijalva, which would permanently address this issue.
Time is running out! Congress should act immediately and send this bill to the President’s desk without delay.
Hastings represents Florida’s 20th Congressional District and has served in the House since 1993. He sits on the Rules Committee, and is ranking Democratic member of the U.S. Helsinki Commission.