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Without debate or discord a House subcommittee approved a fiscal year 2002 money bill June 7 that provides about all the money due a conservation program called CARA-lite. Among other items the bill would provide a total of $200 million for the payments-in-lieu of taxes program (PILT), $390 million for federal land acquisition and $156 million in CARA-lite infrastructure improvement.

Rep. David Obey (Wis.), ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said the subcommittee was true to a six-year CARA-lite program established as Title VIII in last year's money bill. "There was a large question about whether we'd keep faith with that commitment especially when the President eliminated the step-up that was needed in order to keep that commitment," he said of the $1.3 billion for Title VIII in the subcommittee bill. "You've kept it to the letter."

As to riders the bill does NOT contain a provision requested by the Bush administration that would halt the listing of imperiled species and the designation of critical habitat for newly-listed species during fiscal 2002. Asked by PLN if the language was in the approved bill, a subcommittee staff member said, "No."

In one major decrease that may be controversial as the bill moves along the subcommittee approved $800 million less for fire fighting than it did in fiscal 2001. The subcommittee approved $2.1 billion, compared to a fiscal 2001 appropriation of $2.9 billion.

Most other details of the subcommittee bill won't be available until the full House Appropriations Committee considers it. That is expected to happen Wednesday, June 13.

The subcommittee did provide some information. It approved a $16 million increase for BLM operations, to $769 million in fiscal 2002 compared to $753 million in fiscal 2001. And it approved a $21 million increase for the National Forest System at around $1.3 billion.

The Senate Appropriations Committee had hoped to mark up its version of a bill late this month, but the transfer of power in the Senate to the Democratic Party may delay things. Projected committee chairman Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), who also may chair the Interior subcommittee, will need time to get up to speed. That assumes that Byrd doesn't take the Transportation subcommittee instead and leaves Interior for Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.)

The House subcommittee received the most favorable spending cap in memory at $18.9 billion for fiscal 2002. That compares to a budget request of $14.5 billion for fiscal 2001. Budget requests don't always mean much because the $14.5 billion cap in fiscal 2001 ended up with a final appropriation of $18.8 billion.

The Title VIII allocation provides money for a dozen conservation programs ranging from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) to PILT to federal agency maintenance. For the federal side of LWCF the subcommittee would provide $54 million less in fiscal 2002 than in fiscal 2001, decreasing to $390 million from $444 million. And for the state side of LWCF the bill would provide $154 million, or almost $300 million less than the Bush administration requested.

But that's not the whole story. The subcommittee would use money from the federal and state sides of LWCF to establish a $100 million state wildlife grants program and a $60 million Fish and Wildlife Service incentive grants program. Altogether then the subcommittee would distribute a total of $709 million from LWCF, compared to an administration request of $900 million

Before the subcommittee voted on the bill, Obey scolded both the administration and conservationists for not supporting fully Title VIII. "(The subcommittee action) should send a message to both the administration that they should recognize a good deal when they see it and especially it should send a significant message to the environmentalist and conservation community that there are ways to deal with these problems that accomplish the same results without abusing the budget process."

Obey was angry at environmentalists and conservationists because they are still campaigning for a permanent conservation bill called CARA, the Conservation and Reinvestment Act, that would provide $3 billion per year, compared to CARA-lite's $1.76 billion. And CARA would largely circumvent annual appropriations.


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