A valuable reinvestment

Land conservation: Bipartisan bill offers hope for long-term protection of coastlines, open space.

April 04, 2000

THE FEDERAL government gets $4.5 billion a year from offshore oil and gas leases. It's time to channel those funds from the nation's nonrenewable natural resources to efforts for preservation of precious open space and recreation opportunities.

Too often, land is developed because there are no public funds to purchase it outright or buy easements to protect its use for parks or conservation areas. Thousands of acres of open land are eaten up by development each day.

Offshore oil royalties have long been used by Congress and the White House to help balance the federal budget, to offset other expenditures. The $900 million annually authorized for land acquisition through the Land and Water Conservation Fund in 1964 is rarely fully appropriated.

But in unusual bipartisan compromise, bills with broad support are moving through both houses of Congress to dedicate $3 billion a year in offshore revenues for state and federal conservation projects.

The Conservation and Reinvestment Act would allocate $1 billion for 35 states designated as coastal, the Land and Water Fund would get $900 million. The rest would be distributed for conservation easements and wilderness protection, urban parks and historic preservation, for wildlife programs and Indian lands.

The strongest opposition comes from Western lawmakers and private property advocates who fear further expansion of government ownership of their states. But two-thirds of the House of Representatives is co-sponsoring the bill. The White House is on board, with plans to protect 5 million acres around 17 national parks and monuments. Senate leadership is supportive.

Thirty-five years ago the land/water fund was based on "giving back to nature" through resource royalties. Now is the time to provide that continuing, long-term source of money to protect our threatened open spaces.

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