Young's land bill headed for contentious Senate hearing

Posted: Sunday, June 25, 2000

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Two days of hearings on a nationwide land conservation bill have been reset for next week by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

But it wasn't certain whether the hearings will occur as scheduled because of some continued wrangling over the legislation.

The Conservation and Reinvestment Act passed the House last month under prodding by its chief sponsor, Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska.

It had been scheduled for debate June 14 in the Senate committee, but that schedule slipped while the panel's chairman, Alaska Sen. Frank Murkowski, took on a broad restructuring effort of the nation's electric utility rules.

Hearings are scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday, but they could be bumped again. Meetings on the lands bill were held Friday.

The measure would spend about $45 billion over a 15-year period to buy and conserve land, conduct environmental research and build coastal projects to deal with the effects of oil development.

About $165 million of that would be destined for Alaska each year.

Murkowski is sponsor of parallel legislation in the Senate. He had said earlier this month that he was having trouble building support among fellow Republicans on the committee.

Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho, an influential member of the GOP majority, may propose some amendments but probably will oppose the bill in any case, spokesman Will Hart said.

''Whether it will be amendable enough that Western senators, such as Sen. Craig, will be able to stomach it remains to be seen,'' Hart told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. ''As long as they provide for mandatory spending for federal land acquisition in the West, Sen. Craig and others will remain opposed.''

The legislation would dedicate about $2.85 billion annually from federal offshore oil revenues to a variety of enterprises.

The largest block -- $1 billion -- would go mostly to coastal states to underwrite projects or studies related to the social, economic or environmental effects of the federal government's offshore oil leasing program.

Another block newarly as large would buy up private land for conservation and recreation. Half would go to federal agencies, the rest to state and local governments.

Other provisions would provide money for wildlife management and historical preservation and maintenance on federal and Native lands. The bill also dedicates federal money to local governments as compensation for nontaxable federal lands.

Critics claim the legislation will encourage the unfair taking of private property and would bust the budget.

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