Murkowski faces Republican opposition to conservation bill

Posted: Thursday, July 20, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Sen. Frank Murkowski's fellow Republicans on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday denounced a sweeping conservation measure that would share federal offshore oil revenues with states.

They called the bill, a compromise Murkowski worked out with Democrats last week, crafty, dishonest and an attack on private property rights.

Republican critics are expected to try to weaken or mortally wound the sweeping conservation package by adding amendments.

''I will oppose some amendments that will surprise Alaskans,'' Murkowski forecast during a meeting with reporters after Wednesday's opening work session on the Conservation and Reinvestment Act.

The measure is a similar version to what passed by a wide margin in the House in May. It has drawn fire from Western conservative Republicans who oppose a core provision giving the federal government $450 million a year to buy environmentally sensitive lands.

Private property rights groups have blasted the legislation as an unprecedented ''land grab'' that will lead to new restrictions on public and private land uses.

''I believe the great American legacy is the right to own private land,'' said Idaho Sen. Larry Craig, a leading torch-carrier for the property rights groups.

Murkowski tried to explain Wednesday how his package protects private landowners and guards against wholesale land purchases by the federal government.

All land purchases would have to be with willing sellers and proposed purchases would have to pass review by the Senate Resources and Appropriations committees, Murkowski said.

Despite all the Republican consternation, Democrats said they are delighted with the Murkowski compromise.

''This may be the most important conservation measure Congress has taken up in 50 years,'' said Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D.

''This Congress will be known for the next 50 to 100 years because of this,'' said Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D.

The Murkowski compromise was also hailed by more than 330 national and regional organizations, including the Wilderness Society, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the U.S. Soccer Foundation and the National Recreation and Park Association.

''This unique opportunity to advance landmark legislation should not be threatened by damaging amendments,'' they pleaded in a letter Wednesday to committee members.

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