House to Consider Controversial Land-Acquisition Bill
Monday, August 06, 2001
Kelley O. Beaucar

A bill that would give the federal government more money to acquire private lands is headed for a full House vote sometime this fall.

The Conservation and Reinvestment Act (CARA) was voted out of the House Resources Committee last week on a 29-12 vote.

The measure alarms some property rights advocates and critics of current federal stewardship efforts.

"The government really has a bad track record for managing the land that they have," said Allison Freeman of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a Washington-based advocacy group that opposes the bill.

Opponents say the two biggest sticking points are the establishment of a $46.5 billion trust fund for new federal parkland and other conservation projects, and a measure that would remove the funds from the normal appropriations process in Congress and put it in the discretion of cabinet secretaries instead.

"It's a huge bill, it's a lot of money," noted Freeman. "It's money that is going to be off budget, that Congress won't have a chance to look at again to see if the programs are wasting money."

But the proposal enjoys bipartisan and White House support, as well as support from some state and local leaders, who see CARA as a potential feeder for park and beautification efforts.

"We had an agreement with the American people … to put money into the land and conservation fund and we have not done that – we have taken and spent the money for other purposes," Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, told Fox News. "What we'd like to do is expand that program to go beyond the land and conservation fund and into historical preservation, into urban parks, into wildlife rehabilitation."

According to bill sponsors Rep. Young and Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., the bill would take $450 million a year from existing offshore oil revenues for projects such as land purchases, environmental programs, and endangered species protection and weed control in lakes.

But critics in Congress, including many who represent states that already have large chunks of land owned by the government, are not pleased with the measure.

"It's too bad they're trying to move land out of the private sector and into the public sector," said Jeff Malmen, chief of staff to Rep. C.L. "Butch" Otter, R-Idaho. "There is no purpose in purchasing more when you haven't kept up with the land you have."

Earlier this year the report by the Department of Interior's Inspector General (IG) reported $13 billion in backlogged maintenance costs as of September 1999. The report included problems such as crumbling buildings on historic Ellis Island, dangerous park buildings in Montana, and out-of-control forest fires on federal parkland.

And Malmen says that 64 percent of Idaho is run by the federal government and that Idahoans view any more loss of land as a loss of local tax revenues – which is used for roads, education and other basic taxpayer needs.

"If it's not going to impact your state, it's an easy vote," he said. "But if you're in a state that is nearly two-thirds owned by government, you'll want to put the pinch on it."

Rep. Young acknowledged some of the problems but defends the measure. "I think the management of most of our national lands has been incorrect – but again this bill is not to buy all that much land," he said. "I have tried to encourage the agencies to start managing our land in a better way."

Fox News' Brian Wilson contributed to this report.,2933,31501,00.html

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