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 #240  

 April 1999




Bill Would Fund Parks, Hockey Rinks to Rescue Oceans

by David Ridenour



Only politicians would try sell the idea that best way to reduce environmental threats to the oceans is to spend more money on ice hockey rinks, parks and other recreational facilities in cities. But that's precisely what some of our elected officials are trying to do with a bill called the Conservation and Reinvestment Act of 1999 (CARA), introduced ostensibly to offset the environmental effects of off-shore oil and gas drilling.

Introduced in the House of Representatives by Don Young (R-AK) and John Dingell (D-MI) and in the Senate by Frank Murkowski (R-AK) and Mary Landrieu (D-LA), CARA (H.R. 701/S.25) would allow coastal states to keep a portion of the $4 - $5 billion in oil royalties generated annually from drilling on the outer-continental shelf (OCS).1

Although it was originally envisioned that OCS revenues would be split between the states and the federal government, with 60% going to the states and 40% going to the federal government, the states never got much of the money.2 Last year, for example, the six states that have OCS drilling off their coasts collected just $65 million - equal to between 1.3% and 1.6% of the federal government's OCS revenues.3 The OCS royalties have instead ended up federal government's general fund where, until recently, they were used to mask the real size of the federal budget deficit.4

The idea of sharing drilling royalties with some of the coastal states makes a great deal of sense since these states are the most vulnerable to the environmental risks posed by oil drilling. As Mark Van Putten, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation noted in recent congressional testimony, "...the lion's share of [environmental] impacts [from OCS drilling] are borne by America's coastal zones... These coastal zones are home to over half the nation's population, play a critical role in absorbing flooding and blunting storms, provide important spawning habitat for commercially valuable fisheries and harbor a disproportionate fraction of rare and endangered wildlife."5

Yet, coastal states aren't the only states that would benefit financially from passage of CARA. While the bill would set aside 27% of OCS revenues for an "Outer Continental Shelf Impact Assistance Fund" to be used for mitigation of the environmental damage caused by oil drilling, 23% of the revenues would be allocated to the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), a federal program used to buy private land for outdoor conservation, recreation and development projects (including indoor sports complexes), urban parks and basketball courts.6 As Representative Young himself has noted, "In Alaska, we could use [LWCF funds] ...for access trails, hockey rinks and other projects..."7 One wonders what the scientific basis is for building city parks, hockey rinks and the like to help reduce the environmental harm caused by offshore drilling operations. Given the vast quantity of midnight basketball courts funded by Congress over the past decade to cure the nation's crime problem, it's a wonder there is any pollution in the oceans at all.

The real reason for such funding, of course, is politics. Since only six states have OCS drilling offshore, CARA can't pass with the votes of congressmen representing OCS states alone. So the sponsors of the bill decided to sweeten the deal for non-OCS states - and particularly for states with large congressional delegations. Under CARA, over 25% of LWCF financial assistance would be distributed equally to states; 8.4% would be granted based on state population size; 16% would be reserved for the Urban Parks and Recreation Recovery Program and 28% would be reserved for Department of Interior and Department of Agriculture land acquisition in the Eastern United States.8

CARA's sponsors have also worked hard to get the environmental movement and the Clinton Administration on board. The land acquisition called for in the bill certainly fits in nicely with the Clinton Administration's Lands Legacy and Livable Communities initiatives, which, among other things, are designed to preserve green and open spaces to curb "urban sprawl."9 Transferring more land from private hands to the government also appeals to the environmental movement.

But these purchases have property rights groups concerned. Sponsors of CARA insist the bill doesn't threaten property rights as it specifically requires "willing sellers" for all land purchases. But local, state and federal government officials have become quite adept over the years in applying regulations, using legal maneuvers and targeting land purchases to convert unwilling sellers to willing sellers. The Alaska National Interest Lands and Conservation Act (ANILCA), passed two decades ago, was also supposed to protect property owners' rights - including the rights of miners. But as Ray Krieg, who owns property within the boundaries of several national parks and forests noted in recent congressional testimony, "Within only seven years of passage of ANILCA, the National Park Service acquiesced to a friendly lawsuit filed by environmental organizations and mining in all Alaska's national parks was shut down. The miners then suffered years of... insincere and biased mining claim validity determinations... All designed to exhaust the resources of claim holders and increase their risk and expense..."10 So much for a willing seller.

Even if CARA could protect property rights, it is still unclear how buying a retiree's land in the Adirondacks for park expansion or land outside cities to stop suburban development will benefit our oceans and shorelines. But that's not what CARA is really about: It's about congressmen bringing dollars home to their districts.


Footnotes

1 Mark Van Putten's testimony, U.S. Senate, Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Aid to Offset Effects of Coastal Oil and Gas Drilling, January 27,1999 (Washington, D.C.: Federal Document Clearing House, Inc., 1999).

2 "Congress Should More Fully Fund Conservation Plan," The Houston Chronicle, March 19, 1999, p. 36.

3 Van Putten.

4 "Congress Should More Fully Fund Conservation Plan," p. 36.

5 Van Putten.

6 U.S. House of Representatives, Conservation and Reinvestment Act of 1999.

7 Don Young, "Offshore Oil Would Benefit Cities, Wildlife," Anchorage Daily News, March 27, 1999.

8 U.S. Congress, Conservation and Reinvestment Act of 1999.

9 "Transcript of Clinton, Gore Remarks at Announcement of Land Legacy," U.S. Newswire, January 12,

1999.

10 Ray Krieg's testimony, U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Resources, March 31, 1999.


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David A. Ridenour is Vice President of The National Center for Public Policy Research, a Washington, D.C. think tank, where he oversees the group's environmental and regulatory program. Comments may be sent to [email protected].




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