Lawmakers Urge Bush to Support Landmark Conservation Bill

By Brian Hansen

WASHINGTON, DC, January 23, 2001 (ENS) - Two key Capitol Hill lawmakers have asked President George W. Bush to support a landmark environmental bill that former Democratic President Bill Clinton had hoped to sign into law during his final months in the White House.

The environmental bill, known as the Conservation and Reinvestment Act (CARA), was pitched to Bush in a letter drafted by Congressman Don Young, a Republican from Alaska, and Congressman John Dingell, a Democrat from Michigan.

"We firmly believe that your administration, the Congress and the American people would be well served to have a common sense environmental bill as a key component of your first agenda," Dingell and Young stated in their January 22 letter to the nation's new President. "With your active support, we both believe CARA can be enacted early in the 107th Congress."

Young

Alaska Congressman Don Young (Photo courtesy Office of the Congressman)

CARA, which was a key component of Clinton's environmental policy agenda, enjoyed broad bipartisan support on Capitol Hill during the previous 106th Congress.

In its original form, the measure would have used royalties generated from offshore oil drilling revenues to fund a host of state and federal conservation programs at a rate of some $3 billion per year for a period of 15 years.

But despite easily passing the Republican controlled House last fall by a vote of 315 to 102, the measure hit a roadblock in the Senate and was never presented to Clinton, who was eager to sign it.

Instead, many of the bill's provisions were substantially watered down and incorporated into the Interior Department's appropriations bill for fiscal year 2001, which a somewhat disappointed Clinton signed on October 11, 2000.

Dingell

Michigan Congressman John Dingell (Photo courtesy Office of the Congressman)

While still impressive in scale and scope, that omnibus version of CARA represented a significant departure from the provisions that had been provided in the original stand alone legislation. The compromise bill, dubbed "CARA Lite" by Young and other Congressional Republicans, provided a total of about $12 billion in dedicated funding for the state and federal conservation programs over a period of six years.

Both CARA and "CARA Lite" utilized royalties paid to the U.S. government to fund a host of environmental and recreational programs, such as the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which pays for federal and state land acquisitions.

While the amount of the appropriations varied substantially, both bills provided funding for coastal restoration programs, wildlife programs, urban park programs, and historic preservation programs.

oil rig

The CARA legislation would fund conservation programs through royalties collected from offshore oil drilling operations. This rig, pictured in 1955, operated in the Gulf of Mexico south of New Orleans. (Photo by Robert Pryce, courtesy National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

Aside from its significantly higher outlays, the original CARA legislation also provided for a secured and dedicated annual funding stream for the conservation and recreation programs it embodied. The omnibus CARA Lite version, by contrast, did not provide the financial security associated with the stand alone bill.

In their letter to Bush, Young and Dingell said that those and other compromises "have only heightened the overall desire to enact a comprehensive bill."

"We ... look forward to working with you to move our nation's conservation legacy forward," Young and Dingell declared in their letter to Bush.

Young, the original sponsor of the stand alone measure in the 106th Congress, said that "CARA would be an excellent opportunity to pass a significant bipartisan bill during the first 100 days of the new Bush administration."

Dingell echoed the point, saying, "I trust that President Bush will see the merits in making this landmark legislation an early priority of his administration."

Chesapeake

The CARA legislation would provide funding to refurbish coastal areas, like this stretch of Chesapeake Bay (Photo by Craig Koppie, courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

The Bush team had not responded to queries regarding the resurrection of CARA as of early Tuesday evening.

Meanwhile, Utah Republican James Hansen, the newly appointed chairman of the House Resources Committee, continued his efforts to enact "reasonable, environmentally sound legislation" that reflects a "sensitivity to the wishes of the American people and the input of state and local governments."

Hansen, who took over leadership of the committee from Young, said that every member of the panel shares a "deep commitment to preservation of our environment and the wise use of our resources."

"Some of the issues we tackle will be controversial and there will undoubtedly be disagreements," Hansen said. "But I am unwaveringly committed to fostering a spirit of cooperation, discussion, and reasonable compromise in this committee."

Hansen said that the committee will have a number of key legislative priorities during the 107th Congress. They include renewing key domestic and international wildlife conservation measures, such as the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Asian Elephant Conservation Act. The committee will also work to give local forest managers more authority to manage lands entrusted to their care, Hansen said.

Hansen also vowed that his committee will conduct a "vigorous review" of the many environmentally related rules and regulations that were put in place in the waning weeks of the Clinton administration. Hansen said that some of the rules "may have violated federal law" by circumventing established procedures, such as public comment periods.

The Bush team has already taken administrative action in that area. On Saturday, less than 90 minutes after taking the oath of office, Bush authorized the dissemination of a directive that effectively blocked all of the pending executive orders and regulatory actions that had been enacted in the last days and weeks of the Clinton administration. Bush's chief of staff, Andrew Card, said that the administration wanted time to review the legality of the measures before they went into effect.

Many of the now-suspended regulations were promulgated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which in the final weeks of the Clinton administration was pushing to enact nearly 90 new regulatory actions. Sources at EPA tell ENS that the agency is trying to sort out which of the regulations are subject to the suspension, and which are not.

New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman, Bush's nominee for EPA administrator, is expected to easily win Senate confirmation for the cabinet level post as early as tomorrow. Whitman has also expressed some misgivings about some of theregulations put in place by Clinton and Carol Browner, her predecessor at EPA.

Another one of Bush's would-be key environmental advisors, Interior Secretary designate Gale Norton, was likely to come up for a vote in the Senate's Energy and Natural Resources committee tomorrow as well. Norton, one of Bush's most controversial cabinet appointees, could be confirmed by the full Senate later this week.