Budget Deal is a Victory for South Florida

(05/23/1997) - Washington, D.C. - The Everglades Coalition said today that South Florida Restoration "took a giant step forward this week" as Congress began the process of enacting the budget deal hammered out in recent weeks by congressional leaders and the Clinton Administration.

Before leaving for Memorial Day recess today, the Senate approved its budget resolution, laying out the blueprint for legislation to follow through with commitments made in the budget deal. The budget language protects funds for activities such as land acquisition and Everglades National Park management and for Army Corps of Engineers projects. The Senate language, similar to the language in the budget resolution passed by the House of Representatives this past Wednesday, classifies such funds as "Protected Domestic Discretionary Priorities." The budget deal ensures that these "Priorities" should be funded at levels proposed in the President_s fiscal year 1998 budget. Slight differences between the House and Senate Budget Resolutions must still be resolved when Congress returns from its Memorial Day recess.

"This agreement to fund the Everglades at close to the level requested in the FY '98 budget is a very important step in ensuring the restoration of this world-renowned ecosystem," declared Ron Tipton, the Director of the World Wildlife Fund's South Florida/Everglades campaign. "We expect both parties to make sure this agreement is reflected in appropriation bills later this year."

Mary Munson of Defenders of Wildlife and the Washington co- chair of the Everglades Coalition added, "This represents a major victory for the millions of people who depend on the Everglades for drinking water and for the hundreds of species that need a healthy, functioning ecosystem to survive. It is also a worthwhile investment for the entire nation because the resources here represent a national treasure as well as a major tourist attraction for people from all over the globe."

The Florida Everglades is a unique area of saw grass marshes, pine- forested islands, mangroves, wet prairies, and low-lying coastal waters located in South Florida. Decades of draining, ditch building, and river channeling have resulted in the loss of thousands of acres of wildlife habitat and numerous water shortages in a region that receives one of the highest levels of rainfall in the country. Restoring this ecosystem has been identified as a priority for the Clinton Administration and such initiatives aimed at doing so have received strong bipartisan support. It is estimated that to be successful, the restoration projects will require similar funding for the next five to ten years.

Under the budget deal, the largest portions of the Everglades restoration program at the National Park Service and the Army Corps of Engineers will be protected at a total of $238 million. The President's request also includes other important Everglades programs under other agencies which are also vital to restoration. These include surveys and research at the U.S. Geological Survey, resource management projects at the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, water studies at the Bureau of Indian Affairs for Seminole and Miccosukee tribes, and also various programs at the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Department of Agriculture, and the Departments of Justice and Transportation. The total appropriation earmarked for the Everglades is $296 million.

The funding still awaits approval by the Appropriations Committees and by the full House and Senate. National Audubon Society's Tom Adams cautions that, "We must be mindful that the budget resolution is non-binding, and the final spending decision will be made by the Appropriations Committee in the coming months. But now that there has been a bipartisan agreement between the Republican congressional leadership and the President, we have confidence that the Appropriations Committee will honor this commitment."

The Everglades Coalition is an umbrella group of 35 local, state, and national organizations committed to the protection and restoration of the South Florida region. "Everglades restoration will be accomplished by an unprecedented partnership between federal, state, and local governments and private bodies," claimed Patti Webster, Florida Co-Chair of the Coalition. "It is widely agreeable that this is going to be a worthwhile investment from every possible angle."



Cat Lazaroff, (202) 772-3270