WASHINGTON (AP) -- The House on Monday approved a bill that would earmark up to $600 million over the next three years for salmon habitat improvements and research in Alaska and four other Western states.
The proposal would set aside 15 percent of the funds for tribes to aid endangered and threatened salmon and divide the rest equally among the five states -- Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California and Idaho.
The bill by Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., writes into law the West Coast salmon initiative that four western governors proposed in 1998 and for which President Clinton has sought money over the past two years.
States can use the money to improve salmon habitat, reduce runoff and increase salmon research, among other activities.
The bill, approved by unanimous consent, is only a first step. Northwest lawmakers need to persuade congressional appropriators that the salmon initiative is worth funding. So far, that hasn't been easy.
President Clinton requested $100 million for the West Coast initiative last year. Congress approved $58 million.
Clinton asked for $100 million again this year, but House and Senate spending bills -- which have yet to gain final approval -- again set aside $58 million.
Northwest lawmakers say that writing the West Coast program into law will make it easier for them to persuade Congress to approve money for the effort.
The region typically gains tens of millions of dollars each year in salmon funds in the budgets of the Army Corps of Engineers and National Marine Fisheries Service, and for a salmon treaty between the United States and Canada.
The governors of Alaska, Washington, Oregon and California first requested funds for their four states in 1998.
When Thompson's bill came before a House subcommittee in May, Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, asked that Idaho also be included. Thompson and other Northwest lawmakers agreed.
A Senate version of the bill has not been proposed, but Thompson is hopeful the Senate will take up the House bill before Congress adjourns next month, said his spokesman, Chris Chauncey.
On the Net: congressional web site: http://thomas.loc.gov/
The bill number is H.R. 2798.
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