Land Conservation Bill Moving Ahead

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Land Conservation Bill Moving Ahead

By John Heilprin, Associated Press Writer
Wednesday, June 20, 2001; 4:09 p.m. EDT

WASHINGTON –– A $46.5 billion land conservation proposal is gaining momentum in Congress despite lingering opposition from a handful of Western lawmakers.

After a hearing by his committee Wednesday, House Resources Chairman James Hansen predicted the Conservation and Restoration Act, which now has 222 co-sponsors, would pass the 435-member House by year's end.

"This measure is vital to the West," said the Utah Republican, whose state would get an estimated $53 million annually.

The bill would create a $3.1 billion-a-year fund for 15 years to pay for everything from restoring coastlines, buying land and protecting wildlife to creating urban parks, historic preservation and Indian lands restoration. The money would come from the $4 billion to $5 billion collected annually from federal offshore oil and gas leases, mostly in the Gulf of Mexico and off Alaska, that is now sent to the Treasury.

The new fund each year would provide $1 billion for marine conservation among the 35 coastal states and $900 million for the Land and Water Conservation Fund. President Bush and Interior Secretary Gale Norton have made it a priority to convince Congress to put the full $450 million for federal land purchases and $450 million for state land-buying that the Land and Water Conservation Fund is authorized to have.

Supporters range from environmental groups and businesses to hunters and backpackers who all envision huge amounts of federal dollars flowing their way. Critics call it a federal land grab and spending mistake.

Interior Department estimates show coastal states would benefit the most. The yearly allocations include $348 million for California, $319 million for Louisiana, $247 million for Texas, $175 million for Alaska and $141 million for Florida.

The bill's architects include unlikely allies such as Reps. Don Young, R-Alaska, and George Miller, D-Calif.

"One reason the CARA bill is so popular by so many groups is that it does a little bit of something for everybody," said Rep. Barbara Cubin, R-Wyo., who worried the federal government cannot properly manage the land it already has and rights of private property owners might be infringed upon.

But, added Cubin, whose state would get an estimated $41 million annually, "I see the flag on the train coming down the track. This is going to happen."

Rep. C.L. "Butch" Otter, R-Idaho, said he and 20 other House members sent a letter Wednesday to Hansen opposing the bill and saying there should be more hearings and increased protections for private property owners.

Cattle rancher Renee Daniels-Mantle of Dinosaur, Colo., testified that since "CARA does not prohibit condemnation ... what little protections it does have are just decorative."

Hansen said, however, that the bill would protect private landowners by requiring congressional approval for land acquisitions and the consent of property owners in federal purchases. The White House also would have to provide Congress with a list of proposed land acquisitions each year and notify affected parties, he said.

Last year, the measure passed the House by a 3-1 margin and gained the support of at least 63 senators. But budget-writing lawmakers fought hard against the bill because it would designate how the money is spent, rather than leave those decisions up to Congress each year.

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On the Net:

The bill, H.R. 701, may be found at http://thomas.loc.gov
 


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