Clinton calls for passage of Conservation and Reinvestment Act

Posted: Friday, September 22, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- President Clinton has called on the Senate leadership pass legislation dedicating $3 billion a year in federal offshore oil drilling revenues to parks, recreation and wildlife programs.

At a Rose Garden event Thursday, Clinton said the Conservation and Reinvestment Act would bring secure funding to protect wildlife and environmentally sensitive lands and build local parks and recreational centers.

''We have a unique and profoundly important effort to give people at the grass-roots level in America a permanent source of funding to protect our natural resources,'' Clinton said. ''A chance like this comes along once in a great while.''

The president's message heartened the bill's chief sponsors, Alaska Rep. Don Young and Sen. Frank Murkowski. The two Republicans head the House and Senate committees overseeing parks and natural resources issues.

Murkowski said he hopes the president's strong endorsement would help bring wavering officials in his administration and senators on Capitol Hill together in a final push to enact the bill in the next three weeks before Congress breaks for the year.

''It looks a little better than yesterday,'' Murkowski said after hearing of Clinton's endorsement.

But the legislation still has a long way to go, and there seems to be growing doubt about whether it can get done this year.

The House voted overwhelmingly this spring to pass the measure.

While every state would get something out of the 15-year, $45 billion entitlement program, a handful of states would benefit greatly. California would reap more than $325 million a year, while Alaska stands to gain about $164 million. Other big winners are Texas, Louisiana and Florida.

Murkowski, chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, worked out a modified version of the legislation in July, but the bill is under a filibuster threat by conservative Westerners who don't like approving 15 years of federal land purchases, and by Senate appropriators who don't like its automatic spending provisions.

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., has yet to schedule it for full Senate consideration even though he personally supports it.

A broad coalition of organizations backing the measure gathered the signatures of 63 senators on a letter this week urging Lott to schedule the bill. The letter is significant because there are three more signers than would be necessary to defeat a filibuster.

But this late in the congressional session, Murkowski said, the bill's advocates are increasingly looking at attaching the measure to a must-pass omnibus spending bill. Before they can do that, however, a compromise has to be worked out between the House, Senate and the White House.

While there have been meetings, they haven't progressed to the point of open negotiations, said Steve Hansen, press spokesman for Young's committee. That could change with Clinton's involvement, he said.

''Young wants a bill, Miller wants a bill, the senators want a bill and the White House wants a bill,'' Hansen said. ''That's a pretty good starting point for negotiations.''

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