THE LIGHTBULB

For more than a half-century, the federal government has used money collected from oil and natural gas drilling to buy swaths of wilderness and other land and set them aside for recreation and wildlife conservation.

But on Monday, Congress let that long-lasting and popular program, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, expire despite broad support within both parties for its continuation.

Congress failed to reauthorize the fund for the second time in three years because key members of the House and Senate could not agree about how to pay for the program going forward. The fund's expiration casts an uncertain future on ongoing projects and prevents new oil and gas receipts from being used for conservation work until the program is reauthorized.

Since its inception in 1965, the program has protected millions of acres nationwide, including according to one analysis at least 491,000 acres between 2014 to 2017 alone. Federal agencies and state governments have used the conservation fund to do everything from building swimming pools and basketball courts in cities to expanding wildlife refuges and national parks like Acadia in Maine and Grand Canyon in Arizona.

“We're really disappointed that this really lovely, wildly successful conservation program is gone,” said Tracy Stone-Manning, associate vice president for public lands at the National Wildlife Federation. “I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that America would be a fundamentally different place without the program.”

The lapse also speaks to the growing difficulty in Congress for members of different parties and chambers to strike compromises that keep even popular parts of the federal government functioning.

Congress “could have easily solved this problem months ago,” said Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who has emerged as one of the most vocal proponents of the LWCF.

Leaders in the Senate and House found themselves at loggerheads over whether to make funding for the program permanent. Although LWCF funding comes from the government's cut of oil and gas drilling on public lands, Congress needs to sign off on that spending every year. Some years, Congress failed to appropriate the full $900 million authorized for the program.

Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington, the top Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, wants to fix those spending lapses by making that $900 million in funding for LWCF mandatory every year. Her bill, which will be marked up in committee on Tuesday, has the support of Burr along with several GOP senators on the panel, including Steve Daines of Montana and Cory Gardner of Colorado. Last week, those senators took to the Senate floor to argue in favor of reupping the program.

Their counterparts on the House Natural Resources Committee have advanced a package that would permanently reauthorize the fund like the Senate bill would, but that would require funding to be approved by Congress on a yearly basis. That committee's chairman, Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), wants the renewal of the fund to be paired with some of his other priorities, including a plan to use some of that same oil and gas money for repairs to roads and other infrastructure in national parks.

LWCF "is politically popular, and therefore they see the program as having leverage," said Jonathan Asher, a senior representative of the Wilderness Society.

In a statement Monday, Bishop said that the “LWCF can and will be reauthorized.” 

“The best path forward is to include it in a broader legislative lands package that addresses the National Park maintenance backlog and other lands-related measures,” he added.

This is not the first time the program has expired. Bishop took credit in 2015 for letting the program lapse because he believed too little of the money went to states that “know best the needs of the people in their communities.” In western states such as Utah, the program is sometimes viewed with suspicion as a vehicle for the federal government to scoop up more land.

Ultimately, Congress agreed to extend the program for three more years to give legislators time to come to an agreement about how to change the program.

Bishop's current package would guarantee that 40 percent of LWCF money goes to stateside work. In recent years, the fund's allotment for the states has fallen as low as 12.5 percent in past years, his office said.

President Trump's administration has officially weighed in to support permanent reauthorization. But the White House's budget proposals have called for cutting funding for the program down to just $8 million — a suggestion that has rankled even some Republicans.

“I’m disappointed to see the significant reduction in proposed funding for LWCF,” Daines, the Senate Republican from Montana, told Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke in May during an appropriations hearing. 

In response, Zinke argued that his department first needed to address the $11.6 billion backlog in park maintenance before spending more money to expand parkland.

“I’ve long been supporter of LWCF program,” Zinke said then. “As a former congressman I’ve seen the benefits of the LWCF program. I’ve been a supporter of permanent reauthorization. It’s hard to justify taking in more land when we haven’t addressed the maintenance problem of our current holdings.”

Earlier this year, Burr went so far as to vote against a GOP package of spending cuts because it included slashes to the LWCF. He and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) joined every Democrat to reject the measure.

POWER PLAYS

— Meet the new NAFTA: Over the weekend, Canada agreed to join the United States and Mexico in a new trilateral trade deal. Dubbed by President Trump as the U.S. Mexico-Canada Agreement, the president called the new trade pact, which still needs the approval of Congress, the "biggest trade deal in the United States history," though The Post’s David J. Lynch and Heather Long report economists and trade experts say that may be overly optimistic. Among its provisions are ones that would “require automobiles to include more North American parts to qualify for duty-free treatment, pry open a sliver of Canada’s dairy market and update trading rules for the Internet economy," Lynch and Long write.

— "Nothing could be further from the truth": Acting Environmental Protection Agency head Andrew Wheeler defended the agency’s regulatory rollbacks while at a children’s health event in Washington on Monday. He insisted the agency was not altering any “health-based” standards, the Hill reports. "They’re still in effect," he told reporters. "They’ll still be in effect next year, tomorrow.”

Wheeler also addressed the decision to place the head of its Office of Children’s Health Protection, Ruth Etzel, on leave, telling reporters the suspension was to “investigate some allegations.” He shot down rumors that the office was closing, saying, "Nothing could be further from the truth."

— The dusky gopher frog goes before the Supreme Court: The tiny, three-inch-long frog that’s at serious risk of extinction managed to divide the Supreme Court during oral arguments on Monday, The Post’s Robert Barnes reports, leaving the “possibility that the first case of the 2018 term might end in a tie.”

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the court’s other liberals "seemed inclined to believe that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had not exceeded its authority in designating more than 1,500 acres in Louisiana — about 50 miles from the places the frogs are known to live now — as ‘critical habitat’ for the species’ future survival,” Barnes writes. Meanwhile, the four conservatives justices "were concerned about the rights of the property owners, in this case, a family that leases its land to Weyerhaeuser, the timber giant that harvests trees there."

More SCOTUS news: The Supreme Court on Monday also declined to take up a case of a California technology billionaire who appealed a ruling that blocked him from keeping a stretch of in San Mateo County beach all to himself. “The decision means lawyers for Vinod Khosla, the co-founder of Sun Microsystems, will not get the opportunity to argue that Khosla has a right to stop people from crossing his property to reach picturesque Martins Beach,” the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Had the Supreme Court taken up the issue, the case would have been seen as a test for public access to coastal areas around the country.

THERMOMETER

— How hurricanes hurt public housing: Hurricane Florence is just the latest storm to impact public housing buildings in the nation. Harvey did just the same. “After Harvey, some landlords of federally subsidized units evicted tenants to charge higher rents to wealthier people who were displaced by the hurricane,” E&E News reports. In Lumberton, N.C., some of the same developments that were affected by Hurricane Matthew were hit by Florence. “That means hundreds of people in a city already short on affordable housing have been displaced for two years,” per the report. “Now it promises to be longer for some of them."

— Goodbye, swampy September: If you live in the Washington area, you experienced one of the wettest Septembers on record, and definitely the swampiest, The Post’s Jason Samenow and Matt Rogers report. “Measurable rain occurred on 16 days, a record for the month. Unsurprisingly, it was also unusually cloudy,” they write. “No previous September on record in Washington that was this warm was also this wet (or a September this wet, this warm). In other words, the combination of warmth and dampness this past month was the most extreme in 137 years of records.”

— The actual cost of carbon may be much higher than you think: A new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change has found the long-term economic damage done by human-produced carbon dioxide to the planet is much higher than estimates set by the federal government under President Barack Obama. “In 2013, the Obama administration set the federal social cost of carbon estimate at $37 per ton of carbon dioxide (up from the previous estimate of $22),” the Guardian reports. But the new study suggests “not only is the global social cost of carbon dramatically higher than the federal estimate — probably between $177 and $805 per ton, most likely $417 — but that the cost to America is around $50 per ton."

OIL CHECK

 — The road ahead for Tesla: Shares for the electric automaker soared more than 17 percent Monday following the weekend news that chief executive Elon Musk settled a federal lawsuit with the Securities and Exchange Commission, The Post’s Hamza Shaban and Drew Harwell report. “The bulls on Tesla will highlight that this is a great outcome for Tesla, which relative to the worst case scenario of Elon Musk being removed as an executive at the company it is,” a Cowen & Co. analyst said in a Sunday note to investors. “However, we continue to have concerns around the company’s progress moving forward, notably cash burn, competition and the ability to drive down costs to effectively sell a $35K vehicle.”

— A modest bump in OPEC oil production: A new Reuters survey found the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries had just a limited boost in its oil production in September as a result of losses from Iran because of U.S. sanctions. OPEC members “pumped 32.85 million barrels per day in September, the survey on Monday found, up 90,000 bpd from August’s revised level and the highest this year,” per Reuters. The survey comes amid calls from Trump for the cartel to up its production to lower global oil prices.

— GE names first outsider as CEO: General Electric announced Monday that it will replace its chief executive, John Flannery, amid struggles, as the company also announced it will take a $23 billion charge and fall short of its 2018 earning expectations, The Post’s Thomas Heath and Jena McGregor report. Flannery will be replaced by H. Lawrence Culp, former chief executive of Danaher Corp. “GE’s stock has declined significantly in the past year even as the stock market overall has touched record highs,” Heath and McGregor report.

DAYBOOK

Today

  • The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds a business meeting on pending legislation.
  • The Sierra Club holds a panel discussion on the Distributed Energy Resources Authority Act.

Coming Up

  • The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Superfund, Waste Management, and Regulatory Oversight will hold a hearing on the EPA's implementation of sound and transparent science on Wednesday.
  • The Energy Department and Carbon Utilization Research Council will hold an event on fossil energy technology on Thursday.
EXTRA MILEAGE

— Gender-reveal party gone awry: A Border Patrol agent pleaded guilty on Friday in federal court to a misdemeanor charge after starting a 47,000-acre wildfire that sparked from a gender-reveal party gone wrong. The off-duty agent, Dennis Dickey, had filled a target with colored powder to reveal the gender of his and his wife’s future child during a party near Green Valley, Ariz. “The target also contained Tannerite, a legal but highly explosive substance," The Post’s Antonia Noori Farzan reports. “When Dickey, now 37, fired his rifle at the target, the ensuing explosion sparked a fire that quickly spread through the dry brush" and led to a $8 million worth of damage."