Rodger Schlickeisen, President of Defenders of Wildlife, On the Conservation and Reinvestment Act

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(11/10/1999) - Today’s markup of this historic legislation provides a too-rare example of the kind of bipartisan cooperation that formerly existed on environmental and conservation legislation. This is what the public expects from Congress. The bill moves us in the right direction. This is legislation that environmentalists can work with as the action now moves to the House floor and to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. We would not recommend the President sign it as now written, but a handful of responsible changes can turn it into legacy conservation legislation everyone in Congress can be proud of.

There are three major problems that remain to be fixed. First, it is unconscionable that the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) is not funded on a mandatory basis the same as all the other programs in the bill. When the LWCF was created, the Congress promised to provide dedicated receipts from Outer Continental Shelf oil and gas drilling to promote conservation. For years, there has been $900 million set aside annually in the LWCF to be spent on conservation. But congress after congress has reneged on the original promise, with the result that there is now nearly $13 billion accumulated in the Fund but unspent. The bill reported today takes a step in the direction of promoting full funding, but it stops short of mandating that the money be spent. This has to be corrected.

Second, Title I, the coastal impact assistance funding, invites environmental harm by providing major incentives for new offshore drilling in sensitive frontier areas and allows states to use federal funds for environmentally damaging activities. This should be corrected at the earliest opportunity.

Third, Title III inexplicably removed from the final bill the provision that included the commonsense requirement that if state fish and wildlife agencies are to receive an additional $350 million in guaranteed annual funding, they should be required to plan on how that money can best be spent to assist all wildlife species. The language that was deleted from the final bill just before markup had been agreed upon by a wide range of conservation interests, including the national environmental groups, sportsmen’s groups, and representatives of state fish and wildlife agencies. If Title III is to survive, it must have this planning provision reinserted.

We cannot recommend this bill for enactment in its current form. But we look forward to working with members of Congress from both parties to improve it next year so that it can be enacted as the first major conservation legislation of the new century.

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Contact(s):

Cat Lazaroff, (202) 772-3270