AHS Efforts on the Hill – Energy Act

September 27, 2016 – American Hiking Society has been busily working on numerous pieces of legislation with the US Congress and one of the bills that’s been taking quite a bit of our time is the North American Energy Security and Infrastructure Act (S.2012). Why is AHS working on a bill that ‘s primarily about energy? Because tucked into this large bill are items that are critically important to the entire hiking community: items such as permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and also funding to address the constant borrowing from Forest Service programs in order to pay for the increasing costs of wildfire suppression.

While the LWCF language in the Energy Act is not exactly what we would have preferred, it is a quite reasonable compromise and one we support. The most important and far-reaching feature of the LWCF language in the Act is that it would permanently reauthorize the program. After the program – which is quite bipartisan – lapsed last year for the first time since its creation, permanent reauthorization is crucial to ensure that it does not become a political football in future years.

The fire suppression funding is also quite important as the amount of money that the U.S. Forest Service spends on fighting wildfires has grown enormously in recent years: from 16% of the Forest Service budget in 1995 to 52% in 2015. Because the appropriated funding has not come close to covering these disasters, the Forest Service ends up transferring funds from other programs (such as trails maintenance) to pay for it. This has caused not just a backlog in trail maintenance but has affected numerous other program activities including ones that would help to prevent future wildfires. The language in the Senate and House versions of the Energy Act are different, however, so those differences still need to be addressed by the Representatives and Senators serving on the Conference Committee.

Additionally, the Energy Act also includes language that would approve the North Country Trail route adjustment which, as a National Scenic Trail, must be approved by Congress. This is also a stand-alone bill in Congress (S.403 & H.R.799) but it likely stands its best chance of passage as a part of this Act.

Currently, the Energy Act is in Conference between the two chambers. This happens when the House and Senate pass similar bills that have differences that need to be worked out. We do not expect the Conference Committee’s work to be finalized until after the election and so continue our efforts to educate the conferees and others about these and other critical aspects of the legislation.