LCV’s Laura Forero advocates for LWCF, opposes Trump’s gutting of NEPA

Feb 6, 2020

Laura Forero, Legislative Representative at LCV, gave oral testimony today in front of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies. 

Forero advocated for full, permanent funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and urged the Subcommittee not to fund the Trump administration’s plans to gut the implementation of NEPA. 

Read Laura’s full testimony below:

Good afternoon. Thank you, Chairwoman McCollum, Ranking Member Joyce, and members of the committee for the opportunity to testify.

My name is Laura Forero and I am a legislative representative at the League of Conservation Voters. LCV is a national environmental nonprofit that has grown into a potent political force for protecting our planet and everyone who inhabits it. Along with our 30 state affiliates in the Conservation Voter Movement, we work for a more just and equitable U.S. democracy, where people—not polluters—determine our future.   

We want to thank you for the increased levels of funding in last year’s interior appropriations budget. We are also grateful that the Subcommittee’s Fiscal Year 2020 bill did not contain longstanding anti-environmental provisions and we urge you to once again take this approach.

Our written testimony details our full budget recommendations but today, I will highlight just a couple of landmark environmental initiatives.

In its fifty-plus years of history, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has protected our public lands, increased accessibility to green spaces, and helped fuel our thriving outdoor recreation economy. 

Furthermore, LWCF preserves our natural and cultural heritage, it helps tell the stories of the diverse communities in our country, and it supports green spaces in every single state and almost every county nationwide. We appreciate that Congress provided a sizeable increase to LWCF in last year’s funding bill. 

To show just how critical this program is to communities across the country, I would like to share the story of my colleague, Barbara Hartzell. 

Barb was raised “Nuwu”. Tribally, she is a Che-me-wey-vi Pai-ute from the Che-me-wey-vi Tribe of Lake Havasu, California and Las Vegas Indian Colony. 

Her grandmother who raised her was an orphan who was forced into a residential school system that separated Indian children from their families, culture, and heritage. 

Due to this, her grandmother lived her life with unanswered questions about her family, and Barb only got to know the stories of these women through oral history or seeing their names listed on Indian Census Rolls. 

The one vestige of this history that remains in Barb’s family is an old picture of her great-great-great-grandmother at an unknown location. 

As it turns out, it was taken in front of the “Doll House” at Kiel Ranch Historic Park in Las Vegas. Barb came to this realization when she arrived at Kiel Ranch for an event

When she took her mother to the park, her eyes filled with tears. Her mother’s words still haunt her, ‘You mean they were real? You mean they existed?’

Barb and her family were able to see the land their family lived on because of LWCF, which provided funding for Nevada to preserve this site.

As Barb put it, when we talk about LWCF, we are really talking about the importance of preservation of our lands, water — our heritage.

The League of Conservation Voters supports full funding of nine hundred million dollars in discretionary appropriations for LWCF in the fiscal year 2021. We also look forward to working with Congress to find a permanent funding solution for LWCF so, as Barb has said, we can focus on a new kind of conservation that centers on our voices and our communities instead of having to fight for funding each year to preserve these special places.

I would now like to turn to a different program, the National Environmental Policy Act.

NEPA is one of our nation’s bedrock environmental laws that fosters government transparency and accountability. For fifty years, it has enabled the public to provide critical input on the environmental effects that federal projects will have on our communities, public lands, wildlife habitats, and health.

Unfortunately, the administration’s recently proposed changes to NEPA would severely limit public input and undermine the analysis of cumulative effects. Gutting this process would have dire implications for mitigating climate change and access to clean air, land, and water, especially in low-wealth communities and communities of color, which are the most impacted by climate change and toxic pollution.

I would like to share the story of Jose Art Chapa, an LCV Member from Texas whose community was devastated by toxic emissions from refineries and chemical plants.

Jose grew up in Manchester, a neighborhood on the east side of Houston. His neighborhood was surrounded by industrial facilities that spewed out toxic emissions.

These chemical emissions impacted numerous aspects of his community’s daily lives — their health, homes, and environment. They didn’t know this sickening pollution was abnormal, that it was not common for windows to be blown out by explosions because of the negligent chemical plants.

The worst part, he says, was losing his aunt, uncle, and neighbors to cancer that was linked to the dangerous amount of the toxic particles emitted into the atmosphere. In time, the chemical plants bought out all the homes that were up for sale because his neighbors either died or moved away.

It is now known that nineteen industrial facilities released toxic air pollutants in Manchester that could cause anemia and cancer, among other devastating effects.

The administration’s attempt to limit public input and prioritize polluting industries in the decision-making process means that people could find themselves destined for situations like Jose’s while never having a say about it.

While we recognize the need to address our nation’s crumbling infrastructure, these improvements cannot be made at the expense of public input and the voices of disenfranchised communities.

We urge you to support funding prohibitions on the Trump administration’s plans to gut the implementation of NEPA. Thank you for your time.