Thursday, December 30, 1999


by Charles Cushman
Executive Director, American Land Rights Association 360-687-3087

"The best things in life are free,
But you can keep 'em for the birds and bees,
Now give me money, that's what I want."

This Motown hit made famous by the Beatles is the theme song for HR 701/ S 25, the Conservation and Reinvestment Act (CARA). Fiscal responsibility, private property rights and environmental protection are all being overridden by old fashioned pork barrel politics.

CARA creates a three billion dollar annual trust fund taken from revenue generated by offshore oil production, called outer continental shelf (OCS) royalties. OCS royalties were established many years ago, and are supposed to be used to pay for damage caused to marine life, oceans and estuaries by oil exploration and extraction activities.

However, in order to gain broader support for CARA, the fund is being raided to accommodate a laundry list of constituencies. Under CARA, all fifty states are showered with cash, and for purposes completely unrelated to environmental mitigation. These include building roads and ports, grants to Indian tribes and preserving Civil War battlefields. It seems that every special interest group in Washington has been cut in on the deal, from the National Association of Realtors to Major League Baseball, both of whom support the bill!

Veteran Congressmen Don Young (R-Alaska), Billy Tauzin (R-Louisiana) and George Miller (D-California) each abandoned long held beliefs in exchange for cold, hard cash by joining together to cosponsor this monstrosity. Young the hunter, Tauzin the property rights advocate and Miller the environmentalist created a trust fund that will take land from sportsmen, trample private property rights and ignore the environmental goals for which OCS was established.

Under the bill, Young directs $166 million annually to Alaska, a state with only 614,000 residents. That's a subsidy of $272 per person, per year. Tauzin racks up $313 million annually for Louisiana, a huge benefit for one of the poorest states in the country. And Miller tweaked the funding formula to disproportionately benefit localities within his congressional district.

Here is what happened at the recent House Resources Committee meeting, where the bill was approved:

CARA guarantees nearly one billion dollars annually for land purchases. Animal rights activists intend to use these funds to target for acquisition privately owned hunt clubs, woodlots and other areas owned or leased by sportsmen, and then eliminate all consumptive use of wildlife. This just occurred in upstate New York, where 139,000 acres of timberland had been leased out to hunters for over one hundred years. It was purchased by the state government, and hunting and snowmobiling were immediately banned.

Don Young argued against an amendment that would have assured no net loss of land permitted to be used for hunting or trapping. For Young, who is a member of the National Trappers Association, it was a tough spot to be in. He angrily refused to even allow a roll call vote on the amendment. But selling out sportsmen was worth it for a guaranteed annual fiscal pipeline from Washington, DC to Alaska.

CARA allocates to state governments up to $450 million per year which can be used to condemn land and force people off their property. Billy Tauzin led the charge against any amendments to protect private property, including an amendment to prohibit condemnation. Not one acre of land anywhere is safe from a bureaucrat's whim under this bill.

He also opposed an amendment which would have protected property owners adjacent to federal lands from losing use of their property due to regulatory "buffer zones" that are frequently declared around parks and refuges. Tauzin had actually sponsored an identical amendment during debate over the Desert Protection Act in 1994. This time around, he decided that pork barrel spending overrode principles.

Most of us have visited national parks and seen the poor condition many facilities are in, such as bathrooms, pathways, benches and employee housing. CARA dedicates over $400 million per year for additional federal land acquisition, and yet does nothing to address the severe maintenance backlog in our parks. The federal government should not be buying up more land when it cannot handle what it already owns.

Congressman Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon) pointed out that CARA will create a broad constituency with a very strong incentive to increase offshore oil drilling and the revenue that flows from it. Environmentalists strongly oppose this kind of incentive. But George Miller shut him down before he could even propose an amendment. During last minute negotiations, Miller inserted a narrowly drawn subsection in the bill to treat certain counties that have oil refineries more favorably under the bill's revenue distribution formula. Those counties include Contra Costa and Solano in California, within which is located Miller's congressional district.

After the committee markup, Congressmen Tom Udall (D-New Mexico) and Grace Napolitano (D-California) held a press conference opposing oil drilling in ANWR, the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge. Miller has long been an opponent of ANWR drilling, but was strangely absent this time. Perhaps he has lost interest in the issue, now that he has carved out his piece of the pork barrel money pie.

HR701 is a threat to both private property rights and the environment, and is fiscally irresponsible. This gravy train is so long you can't see the caboose from the engine!

END (875 words)

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