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Get Outdoors Act

Location: Washington, DC


Ms. LANDRIEU. Madam President, I rise with my colleague from Tennessee, to recognize the introduction of legislation in the House of Representatives today by Congressmen Don Young of Alaska and George Miller of California. The Get Outdoors Act is similar to an effort that many of us in the House and Senate were involved in during the 106th Congress.

I am particularly pleased to be joined by Senator Alexander to announce our intention to introduce similar legislation in the Senate in the coming weeks.

The principles and concepts within this legislation from the 106th Congress were then and continue today to be one of the most significant conservation efforts ever considered by Congress. Our goal is to provide a steady, reliable stream of revenue to fund some of the most urgent conservation needs in the country.

The Get Outdoors Act, or GO Act, as the House bill will be referred to, is almost identical to the legislation considered by the House and Senate in the 106th Congress. That legislation had overwhelming bipartisan support. It was a landmark, multi-year commitment to conservation programs benefitting all 50 States.

The legislation we will be introducing uses a conservation royalty earned from the production of oil and gas off the Outer Continental Shelf for the protection and enhancement of our natural and cultural heritage, threatened coastal areas and wildlife habitat. It also reinvests in our local communities and provides for our children and grandchildren through enhanced outdoor recreational activities.

By enacting this legislation, we can ensure that we are making the most significant commitment of resources to conservation ever and ensure a positive legacy of protecting and enhancing cultural, natural, and recreational resources for Americans today and in the future.

As many of our colleagues will remember, during the 106th Congress the House of Representatives passed almost identical legislation by a vote of 315 to 102 and the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources reported a similar version that had the support of both the Chairman and Ranking Member.

In addition, in September of 2000, a bipartisan group of 63 Senators sent a letter to the majority and minority leaders indicating their support to bring the bill to the floor. The effort was supported by Governors, Mayors and a coalition of over 5,000 organizations from throughout the country.

Unfortunately, despite that tremendous and unprecedented network of people who came together in support of the legislation, our efforts were cut short before a Bill could be signed into law. Instead a commitment was made by those who opposed the legislation to guarantee funding for these programs each year through the appropriation process.

However, as we have painfully witnessed since then, that commitment has not been honored. 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 left out altogether or forced to compete with each other for scarce resources. So, today, the House has taken a great step to introduce similar legislation. The principle of the bill Senator Alexander and I will soon introduce provides a reliable, significant and steady stream of revenue for the urgent conservation and outdoor recreation needs of our rapidly growing cities.

If we were to look at a map of the country and put lights where most of the population is, we would see a bright ring around the country because two-thirds of our population reside within 50 miles of our coasts. As a Senator from a coastal State, I understand the pressures that confront many of our coastal communities.

Today, with the price of oil near a 13-year high we should channel some of those revenues and re-invest them in our natural resources.

Some of the programs in the legislation we plan to introduce will include: impact assistance, coastal conservation and fishery enhancement for all coastal States and eligible local governments and to mitigate the various impacts of producing States that serve as the "platform" for the crucial development of Federal offshore energy resources from the Outer Continental Shelf. It does not reward drilling, but it does acknowledge the impacts to and the contributions of States that are providing the energy to run the country; flexible and stable funding for the State and Federal sides of the Land and Water Conservation Fund while protecting the rights of private property owners and with a particular emphasis on alleviating the maintenance backlog confronting our national parks; wildlife conservation, education and restoration through the successful program of Pittman-Robertson; urban parks and recreation recovery to rehabilitate and develop recreation programs, sites and facilities enabling cities and towns to focus on enhancing the quality of life for populations within our more densely inhabited areas by providing more green-spaces, more playgrounds and ball fields for our youth and the parents and community leaders that support them; historic preservation programs, including full funding of grants to the States, maintaining the National Register of Historic Places and administering the numerous historic preservation programs that are crucial to remember our proud past and fully funding the Payment In Lieu of Taxes program, or PILT, in order to compensate local governments, predominantly out west, for losses to their tax bases because the Federal Government owns so much land in a number of those States.

While we confront the challenges of a war, budget deficits and a struggling economy, I believe it would be wise and we would show good stewardship to take this opportunity to set aside a small portion of the oil and gas royalties to our States and localities for initiatives such as outdoor spaces or recreation facilities where our children can play. The essence of this legislation, the American Outdoors Act, is 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.

We wanted to come to the floor today to share these ideas with our colleagues, to encourage their input and ask them to be a part of this unique conservation effort.

I would also like to add how much I appreciate the leadership of Senator Alexander. I think we will make a great team and thank him for his cosponsorship as we attempt to move this legislation through the process.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Tennessee.

Mr. ALEXANDER. Madam President, the Presiding Officer and I are new Members of the Senate, but we learn our lessons pretty quickly. One of the things you learn here is if you want to have an impact in the Senate, you have to put a focus on something you care about and then keep after it.

The Senator from Louisiana has done that. In her first term here she focused on the great American outdoors. Working with others, she came pretty close to passing an important piece of legislation 3 years ago.

There were some problems in it for Members of the Senate. It is my goal, working with her this year, and we hope with many others of our colleagues on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and others of our colleagues on both sides of the aisle, to solve those problems and come up with legislation that represents the conservation majority, the huge conservation majority that exists in the United States of America.

The conservation majority of this country does not have a line down the middle with chairs on each side. It exists on both sides of every aisle and has broad support. We are good legislators, and if we are as good as we hope we are, we will be able to work and represent what our constituents would like us to do. So it is a privilege for me to work with Senator Landrieu. We both serve on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. We are fortunate under Chairman PETE DOMENICI and ranking member JEFF BINGAMAN that we, most of the time, are able to work in a bipartisan way. So we are off to a good start in terms of fashioning a piece of legislation that will gain the support of our colleagues.

We are deliberately today not offering legislation. We want to discuss it first with members of our committee. We want to discuss it next with others, such as the Presiding Officer of the Senate, who has a long interest in conservation matters. We want her ideas and those of others. Then, perhaps in 3 weeks, after the recess, we will be able to come forward with a piece of legislation that has broad bipartisan support.

As the Senator from Louisiana said, this morning Congressman Young of Alaska and GEORGE MILLER of California introduced the GO Act, the Get Outdoors Act of 2004. I believe they used it to emphasize we might do some work on this obesity problem that is really worrying us, in terms of health, if more of us spend a little more time walking outdoors, playing outdoors, and taking advantage of our country.

As the Senator from Louisiana said, the bill therefore will provide, I believe, about $3 billion in guaranteed annual funding for outdoor recreation purposes. It would be paid for, as she described, by what I think of as a conservation royalty. This is the way I think of it. It is a royalty on the revenues from oil and gas drilling on offshore Federal lands. After the royalties are paid to the landowner and after the royalties are paid to the State, this conservation royalty would be paid to a trust fund which would then spend the money for the benefit of conservation. Then, after that, the rest of the Federal revenues would go into the regular Federal appropriations process.

That is the way I like to think about it and I hope that is the way a majority of the Members of the Senate will want to think about it as well.

As the Senator said, we will be discussing these concepts that she so well outlined with our colleagues. And we hope they will join us as cosponsors. As she said, our bill will be similar to that which was introduced this morning in the House of Representatives, but it will not be the same.

In addition, it will be similar to the so-called CARA legislation that Senator Landrieu and many others worked hard on 3 years ago, but it will not be the same. There are some lessons that we need to learn from what happened 3 years ago.

For example, the cost of the Senate legislation may not be as much as the cost of the legislation offered in the House. That is yet to be determined.

In addition, as the Senator said, we intend to discuss with our colleagues whether States should have the option, for example, of spending the Federal share of the Land and Water Conservation Fund for maintenance of Federal lands rather than for acquisition.

I have learned over the years that there is a big difference of opinion between Senators from the West and Senators from the East about the acquisition of Federal lands. In North Carolina and Tennessee, we don't have much Federal land. So a lot of us-even many of us conservative Republicans-would be glad to have a little more. Out West there are a lot of people who think the Federal Government not only has enough but it has too much, and they don't want to see legislation that would acquire more.

We need to take that into account as we develop a piece of legislation that will represent the conservation majority but do it with respect for those States that are already largely owned by the Federal Government.

Our legislation, like that proposed in the House, will ensure that State and Federal parts of the Land and Water Conservation Fund will fulfill the intention that Congress originally envisioned. It will provide for wildlife conservation. That will benefit hunters and fishermen. There are more hunters and fish people with hunting and fishing licenses in Tennessee than there are people who vote. I am not sure that is a statistic to admire, but it is a fact, and it is one to which I pay attention. Bird watchers and all Americans who enjoy outdoor recreation will benefit from this legislation. It will provide funds to establish city parks so the children in and around our metropolitan areas can have decent, clean places to play; so families can have decent places to go; and so senior Americans can have decent, safe places to walk.

Someone once said Italy has its art, England has its history, and the United States has the Great American Outdoors. Walt Whitman wrote, "If you would understand me, go to the heights or watershores."

Our magnificent land, as much as our love for liberty, is at the core of the American character. It has inspired our pioneer spirit, our resourcefulness, and our generosity. Its greatness has fueled our individualism and optimism and has made us believe that anything is possible. It has influenced our music, literature, science, and language. It has served as the training ground of athletes and philosophers, of poets and defenders of American ideals.

That is why there is a conservation majority-a large conservation majority-in the United States of America.

That is why so many of us, as the Senator from Louisiana said, feel a responsibility in our generation to ensure to the next generation the inspiration of the dignity of the outdoors, its power, its elemental freedom; the opportunity to participate in the challenges of its discovery and personal involvement; and the fulfillment that is to be found in the endless opportunities for physical release and spiritual release.

Some of the words I just used came from the preamble of President Ronald Reagan's Commission on American Outdoors, which I chaired in 1985 and 1986.

In 1985, President Reagan asked a group of us-I was then the Governor of Tennessee-to look ahead for a generation and see what needed to be done for Americans to have appropriate places to go and what they wanted to do outdoors.

Our report, issued in 1987-very nearly a generation ago-recommended that we light a prairie fire of action to protect what was important to us in the American outdoors and to build for the future. We focused on the importance of a higher outdoors ethic, suggested an "outdoor corps" to improve recreational facilities. We examined the role of voluntarism. We pointed out that the park most people like is the park closest to where they live and how important it is, therefore, to have urban parks as well as great national parks. We warned of how the liability crisis and runaway lawsuits threatened our outdoor activities and called for a new institution or set of institutions to train leadership for outdoor recreation.

We formed State commissions, such as Tennesseans Outdoors, which went to work with the same objectives in our own State that we had in our national Commission.

We envisioned a network of greenways, scenic byways, and shorelines. Most of the action we suggested was not from Washington, DC, but was community by community by community.

But we also acknowledged the important role the Federal Government has to play in providing outdoor recreation opportunities. Of course, we must have clean air and clean water, and we must protect and enhance recreation opportunities on Federal lands and waters.

Almost all of us on the Commission called for the creation of a $1 billion fund to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund-both the State share and the Federal share. This is a way of balancing our need for more oil and gas with our need for recreational opportunities in the outdoors.

As I mentioned earlier, I think of these annual payments from the revenues derived from offshore drilling for oil and gas on Federal land as a royalty payment. Pay the owner a royalty, pay the State its royalty, then pay a conservation royalty for the use of that resource. Then the rest of those revenues go into the Federal Treasury to be appropriated. Pay a $3 billion annual conservation royalty-that is the number that the House bill uses-before it ever gets to the Federal appropriations process. Then appropriate the rest.

I believe this legislation will have broad bipartisan support in the Senate.

I look forward to working with Senator Landrieu, Chairman Domenici, with our colleagues on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and with all of our colleagues on both sides of the aisle to fashion legislation that is good legislation, that represents the overwhelming conservation majority in the United States of America, and which can pass the Senate and the House of Representatives this year.

I thank the Chair.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Louisiana.

Ms. LANDRIEU. Madam President, I commend my colleague, the Senator from Tennessee, for his leadership-as I said, for not just this year and the years he has been in the Senate but for his years of service in Tennessee, and as Chairman of this important Commission that outlined some of the principles we are talking about and searching for solutions to today; and for his eloquence in reminding us that even more than good stewardship is required.

One particularly fresh idea that he has brought to this effort is the conservation royalty.

I think we can begin to see that the companies are not only paying a royalty to the Government, but they are paying a royalty to future generations through conservation. I think it is royalty they would gladly pay. We are not asking them to pay more than they are today. But a portion of what they pay today.

I thank the Senator for his leadership, and I look forward to getting, as we said, ideas from our colleagues, taking it to the Energy Committee and developing broad bipartisan support. Even in these days of tight budgets, we can think about setting aside a portion of these revenues which are not insignificant. As you know, last year we generated $6 billion off the coast primarily of Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, and Alabama, while still honoring the moratorium that is in place along the western coasts the eastern coasts and Florida. Even honoring the moratorium in place, we still were able to generate billions
of dollars. Hopefully through this legislation we can dedicate that conservation royalty, a portion, to the worthy causes.

I thank the Senator.

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