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Mounting Urgency, Bills Drive Environmental Lobbying Surge

Nature Conservancy: ‘Our science shows that we have a limited time to make big changes’

Sen. Lisa Murkowski supports a public lands package before the end of the year. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Sen. Lisa Murkowski supports a public lands package before the end of the year. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Environmental groups that focus on land conservation ramped up spending in 2018 to back major public land bills that moved out of committee in October and September.

The increases show heightened bipartisan attention on two public lands initiatives pending on the House and Senate floors, including bills to permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund program, and to use fees for mining and drilling for energy resources on federal lands to attack the Interior Department’s $12 billion deferred maintenance backlog at the nation’s national parks.

It’s also a sign of the growing momentum for a public lands package before the end of the year — a notion endorsed by Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and House Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop of Utah.

Leading the spending in the third quarter was the Nature Conservancy. The group made a permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund a priority by spending $380,000 in the third quarter on lobbying, up $130,000 from the same time frame in 2017. The LWCF’s program authorization expired at the end of September despite strong bipartisan support behind the project.

The group actually spent more in the first and second quarters, at $426,000 and $617,135, respectively, bringing its year-to-date spending to $1.4 million, a pace that would surpass its 2017 total of $1.7 million.

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“Our science shows that we have a limited time to make big changes in the world needed for people and nature to both thrive, and we know that we’ll need policy changes to have an impact at the scale we need,” the Nature Conservancy’s Kameran Onley, director of U.S. government relations, said about the third-quarter lobbying strategy, which also included attention to the farm bill and water resources authorization bill.

The lobbying investment by environmental advocates pales in comparison to spending by energy industry companies and groups. Leading oil companies usually spend in a quarter more than what some of the environmental groups spend in a year. Netherlands-based Royal Dutch Shell Oil Company led oil company lobbying in the third quarter with $3.1 million. Houston-based Exxon Mobil Corp. spent $2.2 million.

The National Parks Conservation Association also boosted its lobbying spending in the third quarter. The group spent $199,450, up nearly $60,000 or about 30 percent from the same period in 2017. The NPCA has so far spent $512,904 in 2018, almost matching the entirety of 2017 when it spent $584,135.

The focus of the NPCA’s attention has been legislative efforts to address the national parks’ deferred maintenance backlog. That increased lobbying activity focused on “the deferred maintenance legislation by both our staff in DC, as well as out in our regional offices, located across the country,” NPCA spokeswoman Angela Gonzales said in an email.

The parks bill would dedicate mandatory spending of revenues derived from energy activities on public lands that do not have other federal financial obligations. The bill would cap the funding at $1.3 billion each year for five years to provide money specifically for maintenance. The mandatory spending provision raised concerns about the need for offsets, which had not been identified by the bill’s backers.

The League of Conservation Voters said the conservation program push was a part of its slight uptick in lobbying spending, but the vast majority of the spending went to “defensive” efforts to beat back a series of environmental policy riders attached to the House Republican fiscal 2019 Interior-Environment spending bill.

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In total, the group spent $130,000 on lobbying in the third quarter, bringing its year to date total to $255,000. In all of 2017, the group spent $275,000, with $30,000 being spent in the third quarter of 2017.

“I think it’s both,” said LCV’s Alex Taurel, the group’s conservation program director. “Defense remains our overarching priority in the current anti-environmental Congress that we have, but we do have a proactive priority in the public lands space in saving the Land and Water Conservation Fund.”

In July, the LCV announced a $1 million campaign to push lawmakers to reauthorize the LWCF ahead of its Sept. 30 deadline, including ad campaigns targeted at vulnerable House lawmakers and digital ads to raise awareness.

“LCV is all-in to save America’s best parks program after the GOP-led Congress let this bipartisan program expire,” Taurel said. “In addition to educating the public, running advertisements and holding anti-parks members of Congress accountable, we have also increased lobbying on this campaign.”

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