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Support Swells For Governor-Backed Conservation Funding Bill

Legislation that would dramatically expand federal aid to state and local governments for a wide array of conservation and environmental impact endeavors took a long stride forward this week when 165 more members of Congress signed on as co-sponsors, bringing the total to 292 -- a level of support that guarantees House passage of the measure.

Under H.R. 701, the Conservation and Reinvestment Act (CARA), federal, state and local governments would share a permanent $2.8 billion set-aside of federal revenues from oil and gas drilling on the outer continental shelf, a funding source that could either diminish or end the need for new taxes or fees to support conservation efforts nationwide.

House Resources Chairman Don Young (R-AK) and ranking Democrat George Miller (CA) pointed to the bipartisan groundswell of support for the measure, which committee staffers estimate at more than 180 Democrats and 110 Republicans. 218 votes constitutes a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Young and Miller, who worked closely last year to merge their separate proposals, announced the co-sponsorship in asking The House Rules Committee to schedule a full House vote at the first opportunity. The Resources Committee voted 37 to 12 to approve the measure in November.

"This is an overwhelming sign of support for our efforts to fund conservation programs benefiting our land, wildlife, and parks and our goal of creating new recreational opportunities in all 50 states. I'm confident our growing list of supporters will greatly enhance our efforts to get this bill on the House floor by this spring and signed into law before the end of this session," Young said in a committee press release.

Policy analyst Chris Kadas of the National Governors' Association said that although NGA has not issued an official policy statement on the reinvestment of drilling revenues, the organization is encouraged with what amounts to a "significant and meaningful" enhancement of federal commitment to conservation, a pet issue for governors.

  • NGA calculates that CARA funds would commit each year:
  • $1 billion to coastal states and counties impacted by offshore drilling;
  • $900 million to a new account in the existing Land and Water Conservation Fund for Federal land acquisition and aid to state land acquisition and urban restoration projects;
  • $350 million toward state wildlife preservation efforts;
  • $250 million to federal and tribal land restoration;
  • $150 million toward the establishment of conservation easements and endangered species protection;
  • $125 million to urban parks construction and restoration;
  • $100 million to historic preservation.

Many governors favor using revenues from the extraction of non-renewable resources rather than taxes - to finance conservation projects, particularly in a way that permits local input in funding decisions. In a letter to party leaders in both houses of Congress that forty governors signed last September, they asked for "maximum flexibility in determining how to invest these funds."

"State and local governments are in the best position to apply these funds to necessary and unique conservation efforts, such as preserving species, while providing for the economic needs of communities," the governors wrote.