Young's conservation bill in trouble as Congress rushes to adjourn

Posted: Monday, September 11, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- U.S. Rep. Don Young and Sen. Frank Murkowski's massive conservation bill is in trouble.

Congress is racing toward a mid-October adjournment, meaning time is on the side of those who are fighting the measure.

The legislation, called the Conservation and Reinvestment Act, would reallocate about $3 billion a year from offshore oil drilling into land conservation, wildlife protection and parks programs.

It would do so by creating 15-year entitlements largely beyond the control of congressional appropriators or the White House.

The measure has won the endorsement of a coalition of sports groups, park authorities, wildlife agencies, environmentalists, mayors and governors, primarily because it would pour money into all 50 states. In Alaska's case, that would mean $164 million a year.

But private property rights groups are against it, and a powerful group of congressional budgeters are concerned about losing $3 billion a year in spending power.

Even Sen. Ted Stevens, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, said he was ambivalent about the bill that his two fellow Alaska Republicans are pushing.

The bill's first big test came in May when the House approved it by 3-to-1 margin.

Murkowski, chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, then squeezed a reshaped version out of his deeply divided committee in July, gaining support from just four of the panel's 11 Republicans.

Now, however, there is virtually no time in the Senate to devote to a conservation package that is certain to bog down under a string of filibusters.

The only other option is for Young and Murkowski to cut a deal between the House and Senate and try to attach the compromise to a last-minute spending bill.

Even then, congressional appropriators opposed to the legislation will be in charge of the show.

Young is not prepared to wait.

Steve Hansen, a press aide to the House Resources Committee headed by Young, said that if there aren't any signs of action by the end of this week in the Senate, Young will turn for help from the Clinton White House to tack the measure onto a spending bill.

''Time is getting very, very short,'' Hansen told the Anchorage Daily News. ''If the Senate doesn't do anything by the week of Sept. 18, we'll be making a full-scale effort to attach the bill (to a spending measure), with the president's help.''

That prospect -- turning to Clinton, a Democrat, for help in passing their conservation bill -- would make the bill's strange journey even more bizarre.

Both Young and Murkowski are known in the Congress as anti-environmentalists and for their attacks on the Clinton administration over everything from roadless forest policies to national monuments.

But for Young especially, a little political fudging is necessary for him to save the centerpiece legislation of his six-year chairmanship of the House Resources Committee.

Because of term limits, Young will lose the chairmanship next year even if Republicans retain their majority in the chamber in the November general election.

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