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Public Statements

Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions - S. 2590

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Location: Washington, DC


STATEMENTS ON INTRODUCED BILLS AND JOINT RESOLUTIONS

By Mr. ALEXANDER (for himself and Ms. Landrieu):

S. 2590. A bill to provide a conservation royalty from Outer Continental Shelf revenues to establish the Coastal Impact Assistance Program, to provide assistance to States under the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act of 1965, to ensure adequate funding for conserving and restoring wildlife, to assist local governments in improving local park and recreation systems, and for other purposes; to the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

Ms. LANDRIEU. Mr. President, I am pleased to join my colleague Senator ALEXANDER as we introduce this very significant conservation legislation. The junior Senator from Tennessee has been a long-time effective advocate for the environment and for conservation, not only in his own State of Tennessee but for our Nation.

The legislation we introduce today is a new, enhanced version of a piece of legislation that was introduced several years ago. We believe it is a very promising approach to launch one of the most significant conservation efforts ever considered by Congress. The American Outdoors Act is a landmark multiyear commitment to conservation programs directly benefiting all 50 States and hundreds of local communities. It creates a conservation royalty derived from the production of oil and gas on the Outer Continental Shelf and directs it toward the restoration of coastal wetlands, preservation of wildlife habitat, and it helps build and maintain local and State parks for our children, our children's children, for generations to come.

By enacting this legislation, we will make the most significant commitment of Federal resources to conservation ever and ensure a positive legacy of protecting and enhancing critical wildlife habitat, estuaries, marshlands, mountain ranges, open green spaces, and expanded recreational opportunity for Americans today and generations to come. The legislation builds on a great and notable effort made during the 106th Congress that was supported by Governors, mayors, and a coalition of over 5,000 organizations throughout the country. Unfortunately, despite our bipartisan and very deep and widespread support, our efforts were cut short before a final bill could be signed into law. Instead, a commitment was made by those who opposed the legislation last time to guarantee funding for these programs. And unfortunately, we all know the story and the outcome of those promises.

As we have painfully witnessed since then, these programs have not only been reduced, some of them have been eliminated completely, and are terribly underfunded in terms of the critical needs that are presented to us today.

What has happened is exactly what those of us who initiated the effort always anticipated. Each of these significant programs has been shortchanged and a number of them have been left out altogether or forced to compete with each other for Federal resources.

The legislation we are introducing today provides reliable, significant, and steady funding for the urgent and worthy conservation and outdoor recreation needs of our states and rapidly growing urban areas. What makes more sense than to take a portion of revenues from a depleting capital asset of the Nation-offshore Federal oil and gas resources-and reinvest them into sustaining the natural resources of our Nation: wetlands; parks and recreation areas and wildlife.

The Americans Outdoors Act dedicates assured funding for four distinct programs and honors promises made long ago to the American people. The four programs include:

Coastal impact assistance-$500 million to oil and gas producing coastal States to mitigate the various impacts of States that serve as the "platform" for the crucial development of Federal offshore energy resources from the Outer Continental Shelf as well as provide for wetland restoration. This program merely acknowledges the impacts to and contribution of States that are providing the energy to run our country's economy. The Outer Continental Shelf supplies 25 percent of our Nation's oil consumption, more than any other country including Saudi Arabia, with the promise of more, expected to reach 40 percent by 2008. Since this frontier was officially opened to significant oil and gas exploration in 1953, no single region has contributed as much to the nation's energy production as the OCS. The OCS accounts for more than 25 percent of our Nation's natural gas and oil production. With annual returns to the Federal Government averaging $5 billion annually, no single area has contributed as much to the Federal Treasury as the OCS. In fact, since 1953, the OCS has contributed $140 billion to the U.S. Treasury. Allocation to States would be based on their proximity to production. Thirty-five percent of the State's allocation would be shared with coastal political subdivisions based on a formula of 50 percent proximity to production, 25 percent miles of coastline and 25 percent coastal population;

$450 million for the State side of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, LWC, to provide stable funding to States for the planning and development of State and local parks and recreation facilities. The allocation to States would be 60 percent equally among all 50 States and 40 percent based on relative population. This program provides greater revenue certainty for State and local governments to help them meet their recreational needs through recreational facility development and resource protection-all under the discretion of State and local authorities while protecting the rights of private property owners;

Wildlife conservation, education and restoration-$350 million is allocated to all 50 States through the successful program of Pittman-Robertson for the conservation of nongame and game species, with the principal goal of preventing species from becoming endangered or listed under the Endangered Species Act. By taking steps now to prevent species from becoming endangered we are able to not only conserve the significant cultural heritage of wildlife enjoyment for the people of this country, but also avoid the substantial costs associated with recovery for endangered species. Allocations to States would be based on a formula of 2/3 relative population and 1/3 relative land area; and

The Urban Parks and Recreation Recovery Program, UPARR-$125 million in the form of matching grants, 70 percent to provide direct assistance to our cities and towns so that they can focus on the needs of their populations within the more densely inhabited areas around the country where there are fewer green-spaces, playgrounds and soccer fields for our youth.

I would also like to acknowledge our interest in several programs that are not part of this initial package but will be considered as the bill moves through the process. For example, the Federal side of the Land and Water Conservation Fund which focuses primarily on Federal land acquisition. The goal of the Federal side of the LWCF was to share a significant portion of revenues from offshore development with States to provide for protection and public use of the natural environment. It is our intention to discuss this program with our colleagues on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee with the goal of developing a compromise that will garner broad support. In addition, other worthy programs that are not part of the legislation we are introducing today but ideally would be part of a larger more comprehensive effort include Historic Preservation, Payment in Lieu of Taxes, PILT, and the Forest Legacy program.

While we confront a time of war, budget deficits and a struggling economy, setting aside a portion of oil and gas royalties to our states and localities for initiatives such as outdoor spaces or recreation facilities for our children to play could not be more crucial. Programs such as the State side of the Land and Water Conservation Fund are in fact the economic stimulus that our States and cities need in these times. The time has come to take the proceeds from a non-renewable resource for the purpose of reinvesting a portion of these revenues in the conservation and enhancement of our renewable resources. To continue to do otherwise, as we have over the last 50 years, is fiscally irresponsible.

As I said, the legislation we introduce today, therefore, provides a reliable, significant, and steady stream of funding that cannot be manipulated or tampered with at the whim of this or that, but will be there for conservation efforts that our local communities and States can count on to provide this great legacy and heritage for our grandchildren.

What makes more sense than taking a portion of the offshore oil and gas revenues that have generated almost $130 billion since the first well was drilled off of our shore on the Continental Shelf almost 100 years ago? What would make more sense than taking a small portion of that money and giving it back to the environment, back to our mountain ranges, to our marshes, to our coastal areas, protecting and preserving our great land for generations to come? The American Outdoors Act does exactly that.

It dedicates and assures funding for four distinct programs: Coastal impact assistance, of which Louisiana and other coastal States would benefit. Of course, we are proud to serve as oil and gas producers, helping us secure our energy independence from foreign sources, providing much critical feedstock, if you will, for our energy industry in the State, and expanding our economic opportunities. Because we produce so much oil and gas, we would deserve help with our vanishing coastline.

In addition, the other segment of this bill would fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund State side. As the Senator from Tennessee noted, he and I are firmly committed to also providing support and full funding for the Federal side of land and water, as this bill moves through the process.

Wildlife conservation, education, and restoration would be fully funded. That helps all of our States. The Urban Parks and Recreation Program, which has been so critical for quality-of-life issues and economic development in our cities, in our suburbs, our urban centers, would also be funded.

Time is not on our side. While other issues might be able to wait and other issues could maybe be funded gradually over time, for every month we delay, for every year we delay, we lose acres and acres, miles and miles of land we will never be able to recover.

Louisiana itself is literally washing away. We have lost the size of the State of Rhode Island off our coast in the last 100 years. If some foreign country attacked our country and tried to take a portion of land away from us, we would fight with every strength and every tool and every resource available. But we stand here literally in some ways twiddling our thumbs while this land is washed away into the Gulf of Mexico. And not just any land but very productive land and very necessary land, not just for Louisiana but for the entire United States.

I close with a quote from Teddy Roosevelt because it is appropriate. He was a great conservation President. Over 100 years ago he started many programs. I love taking my children to Theodore Roosevelt Island. We ride our bikes over there. I love telling them the story of Teddy Roosevelt.

I explain many stories about what he did, hunting in Louisiana, the history of the black bear, et cetera.

In his autobiography he wrote of his experiences in Coastal Louisiana:

And to lose the chance to see frigate birds soaring in circles above the storm or, a file of pelicans winging their way homeward across the crimson afterglow of the sunset, or a myriad of terns flashing in the bright light of midday as they hover in a shifting maze above the beach, why, the loss is like the loss of a gallery of masterpieces of the artists of old time.

This is what he said when he recalled his trip to Breton Island Sound, the second of over 540 national wildlife heritage areas designated in the last 100 years. The land in this picture is gone. It no longer exists because we have twiddled our thumbs for almost 100 years.

Today we introduce a bill to stop us from twiddling our thumbs, direct our resources, get serious about conservation, serious about the taxpayer money, and do something with it that the overwhelming majority of the taxpayers would stand up and cheer, if they had the chance to vote on it.

I thank the Chair. It will be a pleasure working with the Senator from Tennessee as we lead this great effort.

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