May 3, 2019
Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF): Frequently
What is the Land and Water Conservation Fund?
The Land and Water Conservation Fund Act of 1965
(LWCF Act; 54 U.S.C. §§200301 et seq.) was enacted to
help preserve, develop, and ensure access to outdoor
recreation resources. The law created the LWCF in the
Department of the Treasury as a dedicated funding source
to implement its stated outdoor recreation goals. Similar to
other special funds in the federal budget, the LWCF is an
accounting mechanism to link dedicated receipts with the
spending of those receipts.
How does the LWCF get revenue?
Under the LWCF Act, the fund is credited with revenues
totaling $900 million annually. The revenues come from
three sources: (1) surplus federal property sales, (2) the
federal motorboat fuel tax, and (3) revenues from oil and
gas leases on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). Since the
early 1990s, nearly all revenues deposited in the LWCF
have been from OCS receipts.
In addition to the $900 million, the LWCF receives money
under provisions of the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security
Act of 2006 (GOMESA; P.L. 109-432, §105, Div. C).
Specifically, 12.5% of the revenues from qualified OCS
leases under GOMESA are directed to the LWCF for a state
grant program (see below). States can receive a maximum
of $125 million annually in mandatory funding under
GOMESA (except in FY2021 and FY2022, when the
maximum is $162.5 million).
What can money in the LWCF be used for?
The LWCF Act identifies “federal purposes” for which
appropriations from the fund are to be allotted by the
President “unless otherwise allotted in the appropriation
Act making them available” (54 U.S.C. §200306). The
“federal purposes” in the act focus on acquisition of land by
the federal government. The LWCF Act also sets out a
matching grant program for “financial assistance to states,”
to foster outdoor recreation (54 U.S.C. §200305).
In practice, appropriations from the fund have been made
for three main purposes: (1) land acquisition by the four
major federal land management agencies—the Bureau of
Land Management (BLM), Fish and Wildlife Service
(FWS), National Park Service (NPS), and Forest Service
(FS); (2) a matching grant program to assist states with
outdoor recreation, including recreational planning,
acquiring recreational lands and waters, and developing
outdoor recreational facilities (Secretary of the Interior,
through the NPS); and (3) other federal programs with
related purposes, such as grants under the FS’s Forest
Legacy program and the FWS’s Cooperative Endangered
Species Conservation Fund. Figure 1 shows the historical
appropriations for the three purposes.
Figure 1. LWCF Annual Discretionary Appropriations, FY1965-FY2019
Sources: For FY1965-FY2013, Department of the Interior, Office of Budget. For FY2014-FY2019, the annual Interior Budget in Brief and
congressional documents accompanying the annual appropriations bill.
Notes: Figures are not adjusted for inflation. The graph does not reflect $76 million for a 1976 transition quarter. “State Grants” reflects the
NPS state matching grant program for outdoor recreation. Beginning in FY1998, appropriations have been provided from the LWCF each year,
except FY1999, to fund purposes in addition to state grants and land acquisition (referred to herein as “other purposes”).
Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF): Frequently Asked Questions
How can money be taken out of the LWCF?
In general, monies in the fund are available only as
provided in appropriations acts, which constitutes
discretionary appropriations. However, a portion of the
appropriations for the state matching grant program is
available without further legislative action, which
constitutes mandatory spending under GOMESA.
Do LWCF discretionary appropriations count toward
Yes. Monies from the LWCF made available in
appropriations acts are subject to spending caps, such as the
statutory limits set by the Budget Control Act of 2011 (P.L.
112-5) and recently modified by the Bipartisan Budget Act
of 2018 (P.L. 115-123). (The monies from the LWCF made
available under GOMESA do not constitute discretionary
appropriations and therefore are not subject to such caps.)
Is there any money currently in the LWCF?
Yes. From FY1965 through FY2019, about $40.9 billion
has been credited to the LWCF under both the LWCF Act
and GOMESA. Less than half that amount—about $18.9
billion—has been appropriated, leaving an unappropriated
balance of approximately $22.0 billion in the fund. (Figures
were derived primarily from data provided by the
Department of the Interior [DOI], Office of Budget.) The
balance is to remain credited to the fund until appropriated
or otherwise reduced by new law.
How much of the appropriations have been mandatory,
and why have the mandatory appropriations increased
Of the $18.9 billion total appropriations made available
from the LWCF since FY1965, $146.6 million has been
mandatory (and $18.8 billion has been discretionary).
Mandatory appropriations of $8.4 million in proceeds from
OCS leasing under GOMESA were first collected in
FY2008 and disbursed to the LWCF state matching grant
program in FY2009. Such disbursements subsequently
decreased through FY2017. DOI had anticipated that
mandatory appropriations would increase significantly
beginning in FY2018 due to additional revenues from
leasing in the Gulf of Mexico under Phase II of GOMESA.
DOI reported mandatory appropriations for the LWCF of
$62.6 million for FY2018 and projected $71.6 million for
FY2019, although this estimate is subject to change based
on actual collections.
What provisions of the LWCF Act expired on
September 30, 2018?
The provisions of the act that provided for $900 million in
specified revenues to be deposited annually into the LWCF
expired on September 30, 2018. (These provisions were
later renewed and made permanent; see below.)
Related provisions of law did not expire, such as the
authority to carry out the purposes of the LWCF Act,
including the authority to appropriate monies from the fund.
The LWCF Act does not include an expiration date and
therefore continues indefinitely, unless changed by law.
Also, provisions of GOMESA that direct 12.5% of the
revenues from qualified OCS leases to the LWCF did not
expire. Moreover, the authorities of the four major land
management agencies to acquire land were unaffected.
These authorities derive from other laws and differ among
the agencies, ranging from relatively broad general
authority (BLM) to no general authority (NPS).
What changes has the 116th Congress made to the
On March 12, 2019, through the John D. Dingell, Jr.,
Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act (P.L. 1169, §3001), Congress made permanent the provisions of the
LWCF Act that provide for $900 million in revenues to be
deposited in the fund annually (54 U.S.C. §200302).
The law made several other changes to the LWCF Act. One
change specified that, of the total made available through
appropriations or deposits under GOMESA, not less than
40% is to be used for “federal purposes” and not less than
40% is to be used to provide “financial assistance to states.”
A second change specified that, of the amounts
appropriated annually, a portion (not less than 3%, or $15.0
million, whichever is greater) is to be used for acquisitions
that foster access to federal land for recreational purposes.
Other amendments set out criteria for the agencies to
consider in selecting which lands to acquire, such as
management efficiencies and the recreational value of the
land, and altered the apportionment of funds for the state
grant program to treat the U.S. territories and DC the same
Has the 116th Congress made the LWCF permanent?
In P.L. 116-9 (§3001), Congress made permanent the
provisions of the LWCF Act that provide for $900 million
in specified revenues to be deposited in the fund each year
(as described above). However, Congress did not
permanently appropriate these monies (i.e., make them
mandatory funding); they continue to require action by
Congress to be appropriated from the fund (i.e., they
continue to constitute discretionary appropriations). In the
116th Congress, measures have been introduced (but not
enacted) to permanently appropriate the $900 million
annually deposited into the fund (i.e., to make the $900
million mandatory funding).
Would legislation score if it permanently appropriated
the $900 million deposited each year into the LWCF?
Yes. Current law does not provide the legal authority to
spend the monies in the LWCF, including its balances
(except mandatory spending under GOMESA; see above).
Therefore, any legislation that would provide permanent
authority to spend the monies in the LWCF would be
scored as new budget authority and new outlays for
purposes of budget enforcement. That is, given existing
budget rules, any legislation providing such authority
presumably would be subject to certain budget points of
order if not offset.
For additional background on the LWCF, including
historical appropriations, see CRS Report RL33531, Land
and Water Conservation Fund: Overview, Funding History,
and Issues, by Carol Hardy Vincent.
Carol Hardy Vincent, Specialist in Natural Resources
Bill Heniff Jr., Analyst on Congress and the Legislative
Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF): Frequently Asked Questions
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