White House, Congress Applaud Environmental Funding Compromise

By Brian Hansen

WASHINGTON, DC, September 29, 2000 (ENS) - Congress has wrapped up a flurry of last minute negotiations on the Interior Department's spending bill, which the White House is predicting will be a "fantastic step forward" in terms of funding a host of conservation and environmental programs.

George Frampton, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, acknowledged that the final details of the massive spending bill will not be known until next week.

But barring any "last minute surprises," the bill should please anyone who is concerned about protecting the nation's forests, oceans and open spaces, Frampton said.

"What we do know is that the bill represents an historic breakthrough in conservation funding," Frampton said. "This in our view is really a fantastic step forward."

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Last large forest in Manchester, New Hampshire is now the focus of a heated fight between developers and conservationists who want it for an urban park. (Photo courtesy Manchester, NH Urban Open Space)
According to Frampton, the bill will reflect many of the essential elements outlined in the Conservation and Reinvestment Act (CARA), which has been one of the centerpieces of the Clinton administration's environmental policy agenda. That initiative was designed to direct federal dollars towards urban parks, coastal fisheries and historic preservation projects.

The newly architected spending bill would also bolster the revenue stream flowing into a trust fund to be used for land acquisition and conservation activities over the next six years.

The new Interior Department spending bill will approximately double the funding appropriated for those kinds of federal and state projects in the coming fiscal year, Frampton said. It will also contain a provision whereby the $1.6 billion outlay will "ramp up" to $2.4 billion per year by fiscal year 2006, said Frampton.

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North Shore Palisade Head area Superior National Forest, Lake Superior, Minnesota (Photo courtesy U.S. Forest Service)
Specifically, the bill will authorize an outlay of $1.6 billion for those types of programs in the coming fiscal year, Frampton said. About 1/3 of that outlay will be earmarked for federal programs such as land acquisitions, marine sanctuaries and park and refuge maintenance backlogs.

The remainder will be directed towards state historic preservation projects, urban parks, and grants to states for wildlife conservation and forest protection projects, Frampton said.

Still, the funding levels and six year authorization provision contained in the new spending bill represent a real departure from the original terms of the CARA legislation. That measure, as originally drafted, would have funded the state and federal conservation programs at a rate of $3 billion per year for a period of 15 years.

Key Republican appropriators fought hard this week to kill or significantly scale back the far reaching environmental funding contained in the CARA legislation.

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Senator Slade Gorton (Photo courtesy Office of the Senator)
Senator Slade Gorton, a Washington Republican who chairs the Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, and Congressman Ralph Regula, an Ohio Republican who heads the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, blocked an effort by pro-CARA Republicans to attach a modified version of the conservation measure to the Interior Department's spending bill.

That compromise, proposed by Alaska Republicans Frank Murkowski and Don Young, would have provided a six year period of guaranteed funding, beginning at $1.8 billion and ramping up to $3 billion per year.

"There's no deal," Gorton told reporters after a closed door bargaining session with pro-CARA Republicans and White House officials earlier this week. Gorton threatened to filibuster an effort to move CARA through the Senate.

Congressman Norm Dicks, a Democrat from Washington, was instrumental in breaking the logjam. Dicks made the proposal that was ultimately adopted by the anti-CARA Republicans.

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Congressman Norm Dicks (Photo courtesy Office of the Congressman)
Dicks expressed no disappointment with the forced compromise in the program.

"This is the largest increase in conservation programs funding ever approved by Congress," Dicks said. This is a major victory for the Clinton-Gore administration, and it represents a real consensus to move forward to acquire, preserve and maintain precious park lands and open spaces in America."

The Clinton administration is also very pleased that it was able to facilitate the removal of most of the "anti-environmental riders" from the Interior Department's spending bill, Frampton said.

"We also had very intense negotiations during the last week over riders, Frampton said. "We think that basically all of the harmful anti-environmental riders have either been take on off, or we've negotiated language which eliminated their harmful environmental impact."

A rider that would have cut funding for dam removal studies has been eliminated from the compromise spending bill, as have a number of measures that would have had detrimental effects on forest management activities in Colorado and New Hampshire, Frampton said.

Moreover, Frampton said, the administration was able to modify the language of a controversial forest fuels reduction rider drafted by Senator Pete Domenici, a New Mexico Republican. Environmentalists had dubbed that amendment the "son of the salvage rider," out of fear that it would have allowed more salvage logging timber sales in the nation's national forests.

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Trail Creek Fire, Atlanta, Idaho, August 2000 (Photo by Ric Holmes courtesy National Interagency Fire Center)
"We thought that rider was especially unnecessary because the administration now has a plan on fuel reduction that has basically been endorsed by all the western governors," Frampton said.

"We feel pretty good about the rider negotiations and ecstatic about the funding levels [for environmental programs in the Interior Appropriations bill]," Frampton concluded.

The newly written Interior Appropriations bill will be sent to both houses of Congress for approval next week.

Meanwhile, 10 other spending bills remain unfinished. President Clinton this week signed an emergency short term measure that will keep the government operating through October 6, but he admonished Congress to finish its work.

"In February, I sent a budget to the Congress that funded critical investments in our future," Clinton said. "We need realistic levels of funding for critical government functions that the American people expect their government to perform well, including education, law enforcement, environmental protection, preservation of our global leadership, air safety, food safety, economic assistance for the less fortunate, research and technology, administration of Social Security and Medicare, and other important programs.

"None of the funding bills for the programs that support these functions have been sent to the White House," Clinton said. "I urge the Congress to approve the 11 remaining 2001 spending bills as quickly as possible, in an acceptable form."