Oil Royalties set aside for buying land, wildlife preservation and conserving coastlines

Nov 10, 1999 01:00 AM

More than 60 % of US' federal royalties from off-shore oil drilling would be set aside for buying land, wildlife preservation and conserving coastlines under a bipartisan bill approved by the House Resources Committee. In what lawmakers called a "historic" and "unprecedented" move, more than $ 3 bn of the approximately $ 4.8 bn in off-shore royalties that oil companies pay to the government each year would be set aside for land preservation.
Coastal states would be the biggest winners - California, Alaska, Florida, Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi and Alabama - but all states would share the funds. The bill was put together by the committee's Republican chairman, Rep. Don Young of Alaska, and its senior Democrat, Rep. George Miller of California. "Today, we are taking a major step toward approving a truly historic bill, which will guide our nation's conservation, recreation and wildlife programs for decades to come," Young said before the 37-12 vote approving the legislation.
Several western lawmakers criticised dedicating more money for federal land acquisition that is already a sore point in states where the government owns a majority of the land. Opponents fought for more than four hours without success to blunt or kill the bill. "I am loathe to give the federal government a credit card with virtually unlimited buying power," said Rep. Barbara Cubin, R-Wyo. "We simply can't afford the payments." Earmarked in the bill would be:
-$ 1 bn a year for coastal conservation.
-$ 900 mm a year for the land and water conservation fund, which buys land. Half would go to the federal government and half to states.
-$ 350 mm a year for wildlife conservation and restoration.
-$ 200 mm a year for federal and Indian lands restoration.
-$ 200 mm a year in payments to local governments to replace lost property taxes on federal land.
-$ 150 mm a year for conservation easements and species recovery.
-$ 125 mm a year for urban parks.
-$ 100 mm a year for historic preservation.
Thefigures represent significant increases in funding in each category. For example, the land and water conservation fund would more than double its historic funding of about $ 370 mm a year. "This legislation provides unprecedented and permanent support for America's natural resources," Miller said.
President Clinton has proposed to use $ 1 bn of oil revenue to buy property under the Lands Legacy program. The House proposal is far broader and lawmakers said they hoped grassroots support for their proposal from environmentalists to hunters would enable its adoption. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Audubon Society are among the supporters.
"This legislation will ensure that our wildlife is conserved for future generations of Americans to enjoy from their backyards to the backwoods," said David Waller, president of the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.

Source: AP
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