U.S. Senators Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Mary L. Landrieu, D-La., visited the Teddy Roosevelt Memorial on Virginia's Roosevelt Island today to honor the president's lasting legacy of conservation and to announce the recent reintroduction of the Americans Outdoors Act (AOA).
The Americans Outdoors Act (S. 964) is a landmark, multi-year commitment to conservation programs that will directly benefit all 50 states and hundreds of local communities. It creates conservation royalties earned from the offshore production of oil and gas on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) and directs them towards the restoration of coastal wetlands, preservation of wildlife habitat and the building and maintenance of local and state parks.
"The Great American Outdoors is an essential part of the American character," said Sen. Alexander. "Italy has its art. Egypt has its pyramids. England has its history. And we have the Great American Outdoors. This legislation looks ahead for a generation to make sure we have places to enjoy our outdoors. This bill would fully fund already existing programs for wildlife conservation, which will benefit hunters and fisherman, birdwatchers, walkers, bikers and all Americans who enjoy outdoor recreation. It would fully fund city parks, so children can have decent, clean places to play. It would also protect wetlands."
"With this legislation, we can make the most significant dedication of resources to conservation this nation has ever made and ensure a positive legacy of protecting and enhancing our cultural, natural and recreational resources for generations to come," Sen. Landrieu said. "Although the federal government has time and again said it would fully fund these initiatives, these programs have instead been shortchanged, under-funded or left out altogether. It is time to move past that kind of thinking and provide reliable, steady and significant funding for the urgent conservation and outdoor recreation needs of our states and cities."
The Mineral Lands Leasing Act of 1920 already shares with states 50 percent of revenues from mineral production on federal lands within each state's boundaries. These funds are distributed to states automatically, outside the budget process and not subject to appropriations. But there is no similar provision for states to share offshore oil and gas revenues generated on the OCS.
"The Americans Outdoors Act would be paid for by what I think of as a 'conservation royalty,'" Sen. Alexander said. "It is modeled after the state royalty for onshore drilling that has been in existence since the 1920's, in which 50 cents of every dollar goes to the state in which drilling occurs. In a similar way, this would create a conservation royalty of about 25 percent for revenues collected from oil and gas drilling on offshore federal lands."
"In supporting the production and transportation of 80 percent of our nation's offshore oil supply, Louisiana's coast has a tremendous national impact," Sen. Landrieu said. "Our coast is truly America's Wetland -- and America faces a national emergency. Returning a portion of OCS revenues to Louisiana and other coastal producing states is a crucial first step to restoring and preserving our vital wetlands and the billions of dollars in energy investments they protect."
HONORING PROMISES MADE LONG AGO TO THE AMERICAN PEOPLE
AOA dedicates assured funding for four distinct programs. They include:
* Coastal Impact Assistance -- This program acknowledges the impact to and contribution of the states that provide the bulk of our nation's energy. It directs $450 million to oil and gas producing coastal states without moratoria off their coasts to provide for wetland restoration and mitigate the various impacts of serving as the platform for developing offshore energy resources.
* nbsp; Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) -- AOA would provide greater revenue certainty for state and local governments by allocating $450 million for the state side of the LWCF to fund the planning and development of parks and recreation facilities. Of this funding, 60 percent would be divided equally among all 50 states and 40 percent would be distributed relative to population.
* nbsp; Wildlife Conservation, Education and Restoration -- $350 million would be allocated to all 50 states through the successful Pittman-Robertson program for the conservation of non-game and game species, with the principal goal of preventing species from becoming endangered or listed under the Endangered Species Act.
* nbsp; The Urban Parks and Recreation Recovery Program (UPARR) -- $125 million in matching grants (70%) would provide direct assistance to our cities and towns so they may focus on the need to provide more green-spaces, playgrounds and athletic fields for our youth in the more densely inhabited areas of the country.
Sen. Alexander, chairman of the Energy Subcommittee, served as chairman of President Reagan's Commission on Americans Outdoors, which recommended many of these programs, including offshore oil drilling to fully fund federal and state conservation programs. Sen. Landrieu, a member of the Senate Energy Committee, has championed direct and dedicated federal funding for coastal restoration and conservation efforts since being elected in 1996. "She has been a passionate voice for her state and a strong advocate for a common sense approach to our nation's energy needs," Senate Energy Committee Chairman Pete Domenici, R-N.M., said last week.
BUILDING ON WIDESPREAD SUPPORT
The legislation builds on an effort made during the 106th Congress that was supported by governors, mayors and a coalition of more than 5,000 organizations throughout the country. "Research has shown that accessibility to trails and recreation opportunities are directly related to increased physical activity and thus healthier Americans," said Frank Hugelmeyer, president of Outdoor Industry Association, which last month honored Sens. Alexander and Landrieu with its Friend of the Outdoor Industry Award for their work on AOA. "We stand united to endorse the power and promise of this major legislative vehicle to reduce inactivity and promote health and wellness through increased access to quality parks and recreation." "The U.S. Soccer Foundation and the U.S. Soccer Federation member organizations, including U.S. Youth Soccer, U.S. Adult Soccer, and the American Youth Soccer Organization, enthusiastically support the passage of the Americans Outdoors Act," U.S. Soccer Foundation President John Koskinen said. "The reason for our support is clear: the LWCF has played an integral role in creating and developing our nation's parks and recreation spaces."
HONORING THEODORE ROOSEVELT'S LEGACY OF CONSERVATION
Teddy Roosevelt visited Louisiana's barrier islands in 1915, but much of the landscape he visited no longer exists, having been washed away by coastal erosion. In the past 50 years alone, Louisiana's size has been reduced by an area larger than that of Rhode Island. Reflecting on his visit, Roosevelt wrote in his autobiography, A Book Lover's Holidays in the Open: "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 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 the masterpieces of the artists of old time." "Roosevelt was a president committed enough to his dream of conservation that he traveled to a small and distant group of barrier islands off the coast of Louisiana to see firsthand the affected land and wildlife," Sen. Landrieu said. "Unfortunately, even with the efforts of conservation visionaries like Roosevelt, the story of the past 100 years has been one of continued coastal and wildlife losses. Consider that Battledore Island, where Roosevelt went to connect with nature, is no more. Today, fishermen know it as Battledore reef. "It is too late for Battledore Island, but it is not too late to save countless other natural treasures around our nation. Today we have an opportunity to carry on Roosevelt's conservation legacy and write a different ending to the story he began so long ago." Video and photographs from today's event and Roosevelt's 1915 Louisiana visit are available from the offices of Sens. Alexander and Landrieu, as are additional excerpts of Roosevelt's autobiography.