U.S. House Approves $45 Billion Environmental Measure

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON -- The House has overwhelmingly approved a sweeping environmental measure that sets aside $45 billion over 15 years to buy parks and open spaces, pay for wildlife protection and restore damaged coastal areas.

By far the biggest environmental initiative of this congressional session, the bill was supported by large numbers of Republicans as well as Democrats, reflecting the election-year appeal of a plan that would channel large sums of money back to home districts and give lawmakers a chance to cast what many portrayed as a vote on behalf of the environment.

By redirecting money the government collects from oil drilling royalties, the bill would commit about $3 billion annually over 15 years to buy private lands considered at risk from development, to repair coastal lands harmed by oil drilling, to rebuild eroded beaches and to help communities create soccer fields and bicycle paths.

In its broadest terms, the measure has support from the White House but faces an uncertain future in the Senate, where its prospects may hinge on a handful of Republicans who regard it as a threat to private property rights.

In a statement, Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt warned against changes that might weaken conservation provisions in the measure. Babbitt said that a strong act could leave "a legacy of parks, green space, wildlife habitat, and recreational and historic treasures for future generations."

By any gauge, the vote -- 315-102 in favor of the measure -- was a powerful indication of bipartisan support. If the bill becomes law, it would more than double the government's budget for land acquisition and would institute the broader principle that revenue from oil and gas leases ought to be channeled toward environmental protection.

"This is the biggest dollar commitment that American has made to the conservation of resources in the last 25 years, and maybe even forever," said Rep. George Miller of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Resources Committee, who has been an outspoken advocate of conservation issues.

In a rare alliance that reflected the broader bipartisanship, Miller worked closely in drafting the bill with Rep. Don Young of Alaska, the Republican who heads the committee.

The two men usually find themselves at opposing sides of environmental questions.

Among the states that would stand to gain most under the measure, Alaska with its long coastline and extensive oil drilling ranks high on the list, with $163 million to be set aside for conservation efforts by local, state and federal agencies. …