Speeches & Floor Statements

Remarks Of Sen. Alexander - Americans Outdoors Act Introduction

Posted on June 24, 2004

Today, Sen. Mary Landrieu and I are introducing 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 land. 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 offer this legislation because there is nothing more central to the American character than the Great American Outdoors. We offer 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. 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 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 outdoors 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. 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. In 2001, the federal government received $7.5 billion in oil and gas revenues from federal offshore leases. This revenue comes from the Outer Continental Shelf, which supplies more oil to the United States than any other country, including Saudi Arabia. Chairman Pete Domenici has scheduled a hearing in the Energy and Natural Resources Committee on July 13. In the meantime Sen. Landrieu and I will continue our discussion with other committee members and other colleagues to create a consensus. 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. We are glad to see that Congressmen Young and Miller have introduced a similar piece of legislation in the House of Representatives. We look forward to working with them. We are pleased that 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 Ducks Unlimited, and the City Parks Alliance. We invite all Americans and our colleagues of both political parties, to join with us in providing a legacy for the next generation to enjoy the Great American Outdoors. Mr. President, 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 ask unanimous consent that a complete list of all those organizations supporting the Americans Outdoors Act of 2004 be printed in the Congressional Record.