The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday approved legislation that would reauthorize the popular Land and Water Conservation Fund after Congress let it expire this past weekend.

The bipartisan bill, sponsored by Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington, the committee’s top Democrat, would permanently authorize the fund and make the $900 million in funding for LWCF mandatory every year, so that it is not subject to the regular appropriations process. It passed with the support of 11 Democrats and five Republicans.

The LWCF gets its money from offshore oil and gas leases, rather than taxpayer money, and pays for public lands projects. It provides money to federal, state, and local governments for buying land and waters to improve national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, and other public areas.

It is responsible for more than 42,000 state and local outdoor recreation projects in every state, supporters note.

“Since it was enacted 54 years ago, [LWCF] has pumped billions of dollars into the outdoor economy and has provided for millions of good jobs,” Cantwell said Tuesday during a markup of the bill. “Protecting our public lands is good for the environment, it’s good for the economy and it’s good for the health and welfare of our people.”

But a solution to save the fund remains far away. House conservatives, led by Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah, the chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, also want to permanently re-up the fund, but they don’t want to make funding mandatory.

Bishop and Raul Grijalva of Arizona, the top Democrat of the House committee, co-authored legislation to permanently reauthorize the program. The committee quickly approved the bill last month, which would mandate that 40 percent of LWCF money goes to state projects. In recent years, program funding dispersed to the states has fallen as low as 12.5 percent, his office said.

Bishop on Monday put down conditions for what he would support on the House floor.

He said Congress should consider reauthorizing the program as part of a broader public lands package that would also fund repairs and maintenance in the country's national parks.

The House is out of session until after election day.

But Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the Republican chairwoman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, wants to move a lands package separate from LWCF. Murkowski also on Tuesday pointed out problems with making the funding mandatory.

The LWCF still has $39 billion in it, the Interior Department has said, enough to spend on projects. However, it cannot generate new money until Congress acts. Money normally raised from offshore oil and gas drilling will instead go to the general fund.