Speeches & Floor Statements

Remarks Of Sen. Alexander - Get Outdoors Act

Posted on April 1, 2004

Mr. President, this morning Congressman Don Young of Alaska and Congressman George Miller of California introduced in the House of Representatives the "Get Outdoors Act of 2004." Their bill will provide for $3 billion in guaranteed annual funding for outdoor recreational purposes. It would be paid for by what I think of as a "conservation royalty" - a royalty on revenues from oil and gas drilling on offshore federal lands. After royalties are paid to the landowner and to the state, where the offshore drilling takes place, this conservation royalty would be paid to a conservation trust fund. Then, the rest of the revenues from offshore drilling would go into the federal treasury to be spent according to the congressional appropriations process. After next week's recess, Sen. Mary Landrieu and I will introduce a similar bill in the Senate. Between now and then, we will be discussing our proposed legislation with our colleagues. We hope that many of our colleagues will want to join us as co-sponsors. The legislation Sen. Landrieu and I will offer will be similar to the House proposal but it will not be the same. In addition, it will be similar but not the same as the so-called CARA legislation that Sen. Landrieu and many others worked hard on three years ago and which passed the House and the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. For example, the cost of the Senate legislation may be less than the Young-Miller proposal. In addition, we intend to discuss with our colleagues whether states should have the option of spending the federal share of land and water conservation funds for maintenance of federal lands rather than for acquisition. Our legislation, like that proposed by the Congressmen Young and Miller, will ensure that state and federal parts of the Land and Water Conservation Fund fulfill the potential that Congress originally envisioned. It will provide for wildlife conservation, which will benefit hunters and fishermen, birdwatchers and all Americans who enjoy outdoor recreation. It will provide funds to establish city parks, so the children in our cities can have decent, clean places to play. Mr. President, someone once said that Italy has its art, England has its history, and the United States has the Great American Outdoors. "If you would understand me," Walt Whitman wrote, "go to the heights or watershores." Our magnificent land, as much as our love for liberty, is at the core of the American 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 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 so many of us feel a responsibility in our generation to ensure to the next the inspiration of the outdoors' dignity, power and elemental freedom; the opportunity to participate in the challenges of its discovery and personal involvement: and the fulfillment that is to be found in its endless opportunities for physical release and spiritual release. Some of the words I just used came from the preamble of President Reagan's Commission on Americans Outdoors, which I chaired in 1985 and 1986. In 1985 President Reagan asked a group of us to look ahead for a generation and see what needed to be done for Americans to have appropriate places to do what they wanted to do outdoors. Our report, issued in 1987, recommended that we light a prairie fire of action to protect what was important to us in the American outdoors, and to build for the future. We focused on the importance of a higher outdoors ethic, suggested an "outdoor corps" to improve recreational facilities and examined the role of voluntarism. We pointed out that the park most people like the most is the park closest to where they live and how important it is to have urban parks, as well as great national parks. We warned of how the liability crisis threatened our outdoors activities and called for a new institution to train for leadership. We envisioned a network of greenways, scenic byways and shorelines. Most of the action we suggested was not from Washington, D.C., but community by community. But we also acknowledged the important role the federal government has to play in providing outdoor recreation opportunities. Of course, we must have clean water and air. We must protect and enhance recreation opportunities on federal land and waters. And almost all of us on the Commission called for the creation of a $1 billion fund to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund, both the state share and the federal share. This is a way of balancing our need for more oil and gas with our need for recreational opportunities. As I mentioned earlier, I think of these annual payments from the revenues derived from offshore drilling for oil and gas on federal lands as a royalty payment. Pay the owner a royalty. Pay the state its royalty. Pay a conservation royalty. And then the rest of those revenues would go into the federal treasury to be appropriated. Pay a $3 billion annual conservation royalty - before it ever gets to the federal appropriations process - and then appropriate the rest. I believe this legislation will have broad bi-partisan support in the Senate. I look forward to working with Sen. Landrieu and our colleagues to fashion legislation that can pass the Senate and House this year.