WASHINGTON (AP) The House Resources Committee overcame a split among Western Republicans on Wednesday and approved a $47 billion land conservation proposal. It uses money from federal offshore oil and gas leases to restore coastlines, protect wildlife and create urban parks.
The committee debated for four hours before voting 29-12 to send the Conservation and Reinvestment Act to the full House.
Rep. Jim Hansen, the committee chairman, said the bill passed only after he was satisfied it protects private landowners, who would have to consent to federal land purchases.
The Utah Republican, whose state would get $53 million annually from the bill, said he wanted to make certain it included a program to compensate rural communities for nontaxable federal conservation land.
Thats the only reason we let it out, Hansen said in an interview.
Supporters envisioned huge amounts of federal dollars flowing their way and cited a need for more federal conservation programs. Critics, particularly Westerners, said the government already owns too much land. They described the bill as a federal land grab and spending mistake.
We dont want to invest a federal land manager with the rights of a czar, said Rep. J.D. Hayworth, R-Ariz.
Crafted by unlikely allies such as Reps. Don Young, R-Alaska, and George Miller, D-Calif., the bill faces opposition from some budget-writers and Republican House leaders, committee members said.
The legislation would create a $3.1 billion-a-year fund for 15 years that also would pay for buying land, historic preservation and Indian lands restoration. The money would come from the $4 billion to $5 billion collected annually from oil and gas leases mostly in the Gulf of Mexico and off Alaska, that is now sent to the Treasury.
Each year the new fund would provide $1 billion for marine conservation among the 35 coastal states.
An additional $900 million annually is included for a land acquisition program for conservation and recreation projects that President Bush has made a priority.
One-half that money would go directly to states; the rest must be approved in federal budget line items, giving members of Congress more say over land purchases.
Robert McDowell, president of the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, said the measure was the most important wildlife conservation funding legislation in decades.
Last year, the measure passed the House by a 3-1 margin and gained the support of at least 63 senators. It died in the budget-writing process in a dispute over state versus congressional control over land purchases.
Information on the bill, H.R. 701, can be found at http://thomas.loc.gov
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