Statement Of Sen. Alexander - Americans Outdoors Act Of 2004

Posted on April 11, 2005

On June 20, 2004, Sen. Mary Landrieu and I introduced The Americans Outdoors Act of 2004, bipartisan legislation that will provide nearly $1.5 billion annually to help Americans in every state to enjoy the Great American Outdoors. The Americans Outdoors Act would provide a reliable stream of funding by collecting a conservation royalty on revenues from drilling for oil and gas on offshore federal. It would use this conservation royalty to fully fund three existing federal programs: the "state side" of the Land and Water Conservation Fund ($450 million annually); wildlife conservation ($350 million annually); and urban parks initiatives ($125 million). It would also provide $500 million additional dollars each year for coastal impact assistance including wetlands protection. In addition, Sen. Landrieu and I intend to offer an amendment to our legislation that would fully fund the $450 million per year "federal side" of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, but only after we have consulted further with our colleagues to develop a consensus. We offered this legislation because there is nothing more central to the American character than the Great American Outdoors. We offered it because we want to provide a conservation legacy for the next generation. We believe there is a huge, bipartisan conservation majority in America, and in the United States Senate, that will support our legislation. Already more than two dozen national organizations representing millions of Americans have expressed their support for the Americans Outdoors Act of 2004. These organizations range from the US Conference of Mayors, to the National Wildlife Federation, to BASS Pro Shops and the City Parks Alliance. Chairman Domenici, I ask your consent to submit this list for the Committee Hearing Record. In 1985, when I was governor of Tennessee, President Ronald Reagan asked me to chair the President's Commission on Americans Outdoors. Gilbert Grosvenor, president of the National Geographic Society, was vice-chairman. Patrick Noonan of the Conservation Fund and other distinguished Americans, such as Charles Jordan of the Conservation Fund here today, served on the Commission. President Reagan himself was an outdoorsman. The President challenged his commission to look ahead for a generation and tell the country how we can have appropriate places to do what we want to do outdoors. In the report of our Commission in 1987, we found many threats to the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors: exotic pollutants, loss of space through urban growth, and disappearance of wetlands. Changing lifestyles and new technology presented new challenges as well as opportunities. Differences in needs and federal land ownership between the eastern and western states created challenging conflicts to resolve. In our report we emphasized that most outdoor recreation occurs close to home, near towns or cities where 80 percent of us live. We therefore recommended more land trusts, greenways, city parks and scenic byways. We suggested that most of this action be accomplished by a prairie fire of local concern rather than by action in Washington, DC. But we did recommend that Congress dedicate at least $1 billion a year from offshore oil and gas drilling revenues to provide a steady, reliable flow of funds to the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Much of what we recommended has happened and is now law. However, we have not funded these programs reliably or adequately. Total LWCF funding, especially on the stateside, has been far less than the $900 million authorizing levels. But it is now time to build on the commission's work of 20 years ago and look ahead for another generation. By fully funding state wildlife grants, urban parks and the state programs of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the American Outdoors Act of 2004 will continue that legacy. It will enlarge on the legacy by providing new funds for coastal assistance, including wetlands protection. It will do so through a new steady stream of funding by creating what I think of as a "conservation royalty." This new conservation royalty is not such a new idea at all. This conservation royalty is modeled after the existing state royalty for onshore oil and gas drilling that was created in the Mineral Lands Leasing Act of 1920. That act gives 50 cents of every dollar from drilling - and in the case of Alaska, 90 cents - as a royalty to the state in which the drilling occurs. In a similar way, The Americans Outdoors Act of 2004 would create a conservation royalty of about 25 percent for revenues of the funds collected from offshore drilling on federal lands. Some of the royalty would go to the states where the drilling occurs. More would go to all states for parks, game and fish commissions, and projects funded by the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The idea is very simple: if drilling for oil and gas creates an environmental impact, it is wise to use some of the proceeds to create an environmental benefit. Today, the federal government receives about $6 billion in oil and gas revenues from federal offshore leases. This revenue comes from the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS), which supplies more oil to the United States than any other country, including Saudi Arabia. The OCS is increasingly becoming vital to our nation's energy security. We need to have the proper conservation policies surrounding the OCS. There is no coastline in Tennessee. But my state benefits from the existence of drilling in the OCS. I have no problem with Louisiana, Texas, Alaska, Alabama, and Mississippi getting coastal impact assistance for the oil and gas production infrastructure which exists off their coastlines. The previous CARA bill reported out of the Energy Committee in the 106th Congress provided coastal impact assistance to all states regardless if they produce oil and gas. The conservation royalty proposed in this legislation is $1.45 billion for 6 years. The House bill introduced cost $3 billion for 20 years. This bill is significantly cheaper than the bill on the House and the bill considered by the Senate Energy Committee in the 106th Congress. However, in looking at the chart, you can see that the conservation royalty is a fraction of the total offshore revenues. When you look at the historic appropriations for LWCF (about $500 million each year), the real issue that we are discussing is $1 billion per year for 6 years or $1.45 billion per year for 6 years once the federal LWCF amendment is added. There is at least one piece of unfinished business. At some point in the process, Sen. Landrieu and I will offer an amendment to our own legislation that will fully fund (at $450 million a year) the "federal side" of the Land and Water conservation Fund. It was this provision in earlier legislation that helped to cause the legislation not to be enacted by the Senate. We believe that by listening to our colleagues and developing more flexibility among states in how these dollars might be spent, we can develop legislation that will pass the Senate. I understand that the land issues in the Western United States are fundamentally different than the land issues in the Eastern United States. My amendment will address these fundamental differences. I am open to new, fresh ways at looking at the federal LWCF issue. I wish to offer a Republican-proposal that will enjoy bipartisan support on this Committee. I'm looking forward to brainstorming at this hearing with Members and the witnesses on the solution on the federal LWCF issue. Chairman Domenici, someone once said that Italy has its art, England its history, and the United States has the Great American Outdoors. Our magnificent land, as much of our love of liberty, is at the core of our character. It has inspired our pioneer spirit, our resourcefulness and our generosity. Its greatness has fueled our individualism and optimism, and made us believe that anything is possible. It has influenced our music, literature, science and language. It has served as the training ground of our athletes and philosophers, of poets and defenders of American ideals. That is why there is a conservation majority - a large conservation majority - in the United States of America. That is why, I believe, that when this bill comes to the floor, there will be a large conservation majority in the United States Senate. I thank you for holding this hearing and I look forward to working with you and all Committee members, especially my Republican colleagues, on all issues related to the American Outdoors Act. List of Americans Outdoors Bill Supporters US Conference of Mayors National Wildlife Federation International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies Outdoor Industry Association American Sportfishing Association National Wild Turkey Federation United States Soccer Foundation National Marine Manufacturers Association American Planning Association Izaak Walton League of America American Society of Landscape Architects Americans for Our Heritage and Recreation City Parks Alliance The Conservation Fund National Association of State Outdoor Recreation Liaison Officers National Association of State Park Directors National Council of Youth Sports National Recreation and Park Association SGMA International Smart Growth International Archery Trade Association Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership Boone and Crockett Club The Wildlife Society AZ Antelope Foundation AZ Desert Bighorn Sheep Society AZ Wildlife Conservation Council BASS / ESPN Outdoors WILDEATS Enterprises Association of Native Americans Trout Unlimited Ducks Unlimited PA BASS Federation Western Clinton Sportsmen's Association Hodgman, Inc Federation of Fly Fishers The Conservation Council State of Louisiana ** National Governors Association has a policy consistent with this bill. National Governors Association has not formally endorsed the bill.