It is almost impossible for Congress to keep its hand off any large pot of money. Unfortunately, raiding the cookie jar to fund ones own pork barrel projects is an old political tradition.
Nowhere has this been more egregious than how Congress has mishandled and squandered the ?Land and Water Conservation Fund. In 1964, Congress established the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) (Public Law 88-578) to provide for the purchase and protection of public lands, including key estuary, stream and habitat areas vital to the protection of the nations fisheries.
The idea was simple enough: charge a royalty on the depletion of one natural resource (outer continental shelf oil and gas leases) and use this money to purchase and protect other key resource lands (such as riparian areas and estuaries) and so put them aside and protect them from development, under public ownership. The Land and Water Conservation Act of 1965 (16 U.S.C. 4601- 4 et. seq.) directed Congress to allocate this money, through the annual appropriations process, for the purchase of land, waters, and wetlands to add to our national parks, to purchase forests, wildlife refuges and other key resource lands (including lands important to the protection of offshore fisheries), and to provide matching grants for state and community open space projects. These offshore oil leases now generate about $900 million/year but very little of it ever goes to its intended purposes!
Since 1980 this pot has been raided again and again by Congress, which has systematically plundered these funds to fill deficit gaps in totally unrelated programs. Until recently, more than 3 out of every 4 dollars generated in the LWCF was routinely drained out of the Fund, but with almost no public awareness or outcry. Unfortunately, a cash hungry Congress was never able to bring itself to establish the Fund as a true earmarked ?trust fund, but left it up to each Congress to determine on a year-by-year appropriations basis how much to fund and how to spend (or raid) it.
As a result, of the more than $22 billion that has come into the Fund since its inception, it has paid out less than half -- all the rest has been deliberately raided. Systematic plundering and budget slight-of-hand has put this Fund now more than $12 billion in arrears! Instead of real money, all the American people get for this debt is a Congressional IOUs which nobody expects ever to be repaid.
Fishermen have been big losers in this colossal scam. These funds should have gone to help set aside key watershed areas and prevent the development of wetlands and estuaries important for salmon, crabs, shrimp and other economically valuable species. For instance, more than two thirds of damaged salmon habitat is on private lands. LWCF money should have gone toward the fair value purchase of many key watershed and riparian refuge areas, toward land swaps, and be used for other efforts to add key salmon resource areas to the public land base where they could be better protected and restored. Using the Fund in this way would obviously benefit private landowners, fish and fishermen. It would also be a tool to defuse long-running conflicts between private landowners and public trust protections for salmon and other wildlife. However, as long as the LWCF is kept as a private Congressional cash cow for other unrelated pet programs, these funds are never going to be used for the purposes for which they were intended, and the public -- especially fishermen -- will continue to be ripped off.
We have written extensively about this national scandal (See FN June, 1996, Raiding the Cookie Jar) and called for reforms for many years. In recent years many other groups have joined this call and have been putting increasing pressure on Congress to reform the process.
In response, the Clinton Administration has tried to reverse this trend by allocating more and more of this fund to its intended uses. In their FY 2000 Budget, for instance, the Administration proposes restoring nearly 2/3rds of these funds as well as broadening their use to include (for instance) recovery efforts for threatened and endangered species such as salmon. Each past Administration budget has added back a little more of the Fund each year, often against enormous political resistance from a pork-barrel addicted Congress.
However, new bipartisan Congressional efforts are finally underway to reform this process. To their credit, Alaska Representative Don Young and Alaska Senator Murkowski were first out of the starting gate on this important reform issue in the 106th Congress, with two companion bills (H.R. 701 and S. 25), both titled The Conservation and Reinvestment Act of 1999," that would make significant changes in the LWCF process and help fully fund it. Murkowskis S. 25 (co-authored with Senator Landrieu of Louisiana) is now in the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and has had hearings in April and May of this year. Rep. Youngs H.R. 701 (co-authored with Rep. Dingell of Michigan) has had hearings in the House Resources Committee (which he chairs). However, there are some minor formula differences between Murkowskis bill and Youngs bill.
Both Murkowski and Young get credit and our thanks for taking a lead on this urgent issue. Unfortunately, both of their bills have serious flaws. For instance, both contain new incentives for states to boost offshore oil production in order to receive more of the money. Inappropriate offshore oil development, however, can and has had serious negative impacts on ocean fisheries (remember the Exxon Valdez?). Any bill that directly ties state revenues to increased offshore oil production state by state would essentially make state budgets captive to the oil industry, to the likely detriment of both fishermen and ocean resource protections. There is also no guarantee in these two bills that any of these funds will be specifically spent on marine resource protections. Additionally, land purchases under both these bills would be severely restricted only to ?in-holdings (private parcels already essentially surrounded by public lands), not prioritized based on what would best protect irreplaceable natural or aquatic resources.
In response, shortly after the introduction of these two bill, California Rep. George Miller and California Senator Barbara Boxer, respectively introduced H.R. 798 and S. 446 (called "Resources 2000") to accomplish many of the same goals. However, as compared to the Murkowski/Young approach, these two companion bills do much more, including: (1) increase LWCF spending levels to both federal projects and to the states considerably (see chart); (2) provide broader state and federal discretion over what projects are funded; (3) set aside a dedicated amount of $300 million/year that can be used only for marine resource protection; (4) dedicates $100 million/year to support badly underfunded ESA species recovery programs, including assistance programs for small landowners and small family farmers; (5) breaks the direct link between production levels and payments to states, so that there are no new state oil drilling incentives.
There are also some minor differences in the allocation formulas as between the two approaches, and some things the Miller/Boxer bills fund that are not funded under Youngs or Murkowskis bills, such as farmland and forestland conservation easements which could be important for restoring salmon habitat as well protecting small family farms and timberlands from encroaching urban development.
Hearings on the Miller "Resources 2000" Bill (H.R. 798) were held in Washington, DC on March 10, 1999. At that hearing, PCFFAs President, Peitro Parravano, testified strongly in favor of the more comprehensive "Resources 2000" approach. In his written testimony, Parravano noted:
"Resources 2000" has two titles that are of particular importance to the fishing industry. The first is the title that establishes a permanent ($300 million/year) trust fund for the conservation and restoration of living marine resources and fish habitat. Much of this money will be allocated to the states to develop and implement conservation and management programs for living marine resources and their habitats. This will be especially important to states developing conservation and management plans for the myriad of non-federally managed fisheries. ....
The second title of Resources 2000, also of great importance to us, is the one which establishes the endangered and threatened species recovery fund.... In the west, species such as coho salmon, that once supported major economic activities, are now listed in California and Oregon. It is not enough that we merely stabilize the populations or get them to some threshold above listing qualification, but that we fully recover these fish so they may once again support commercial and recreational fisheries, fish processing, tourism and coastal communities. But to do this will take political will and money.
Also, California Senator Dianne Feinstein has her own more limited bill (S. 532) that would deal only with the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act. Her bill would make the necessary reforms in that law to assure full funding and insulate it from Congressional budget raiders. Her bill would also provide for full future annual funding of $900 million/year, but with a division between the states and federal government somewhere between the Miller/Boxer approach and the Murkowski/Young formulas. Furthermore, Feinsteins bill does not contain new drilling incentives nor the serious restrictions on land purchases that are part of the Murkowski/Young approach. The downside of her bill, however, is that there are no earmarked funds for marine resource protections.
Additionally, Senator Robert Kerry is on the verge of introducing his own bill, titled The Coastal Stewardship Act, which would earmark and permanently dedicate at least 10% or a minimum of $250 million/year to an Ocean and Coast Conservation Fund to be spent on a wide variety of marine resource protection programs, including coastal habitat restoration and preservation, partial funding of the National Marine Sanctuaries program, the National Estuarine Research Reserve Program, pollution prevention under the Coastal Zone Management Act and cooperative fisheries research and data collection programs all of which have been badly underfunded over the years. Although all the details of the bill are not yet known (it had not been filed at the time of this writing), Kerrys funding ideas can help flesh out how the money under the Miller/Boxer "Resources 2000" initiative would be spent, and would also fund more marine and coastal protection programs. Some combination of these two bills with full funding of marine protections at least at the Miller/Boxer $300 million/year level, but with some of the Kerry bill specificity makes perfect sense.
Finally, the Administration has its own FY2000 conservation funding budget proposals, many of which were adopted into the Miller/Boxer and Kerry bills. Both the Kerry and "Resources 2000" bills would, however, greatly boost the total available LWCF funding spent on protection and restoration of important marine resources as compared to the current Administration FY2000 proposed budget.
At this point in time, PCFFA strongly supports the "Resources 2000" approach (with perhaps some of the Kerry bill specifics as a friendly amendment) as the most comprehensive approach that will do the greatest good for the nations fisheries. In fact, most of the differences between the Young and Murkowski bills, Feinsteins stand-alone bill and the Miller/Boxer "Resources 2000" and Kerry approach have to do with minor formula differences and spending criteria, and all these bills contain much that is good.
Some synthesis of these approaches is necessary. This issue is far too important to let minor drafting differences prevent much needed basic reforms. Though western members of Congress are clearly leading this effort, both the Murkowski and Young bills have broad bipartisan support from outside the region, which is also a good sign. Kerrys bill has not yet been formally submitted at the time of this writing, but is expected to have broad support as well. "Resources 2000" now has 10 sponsors in the Senate (including both Kerry and Feinstein) and 93 in the House with the number of co-sponsors for both expected to grow.
We call on the entire west coast Congressional delegation to work together toward a consensus bill that: (1) contains no new drilling incentives; (2) fully and permanently funds the LWCF process as well as insulates the Fund from future raids; (3) provides at least $300 million/year in perpetuity for the protection and restoration of the priceless living marine resources which support our industry; (4) provides dedicated funding for NMFS ESA species recovery programs, particularly for west coast salmon, including funding for appropriate voluntary landowner incentive programs to help restore salmon spawning streams; (5) allows states flexibility as to how those funds are used, targeting them toward projects that will provide the most conservation and fisheries benefit for the least economic and social cost. Ultimately, the bill with the most chance of success will be some combination of all the bills currently on the table.
Underfunding marine resource conservation, and continually raiding the Land and Water Conservation Fund that was intended to help fund that conservation, is a national scandal that has got to stop! Fishing in all its forms is a $152 billion/year industry. It is more than past time to put an end to the kind of short-sightedness that puts that industry at risk, particularly when it comes to the protection of the precious marine and freshwater resources upon which so many tens of thousands of west coast jobs -- and so many fishing dependent communities -- ultimately depend.
For more information about coalition efforts to reform the Land and Water Conservation Fund, contact Americans for Our Heritage and Recreation, c/o The Wilderness Society, 900 Seventeenth Street, NW, Washington, DC 20006-2506, or call them at (202)429-8444 and ask for their information packet. Their web site is: <http://www.ahrinfo.org>.
PCFFA is the west coasts largest organization of commercial fishermen. PCFFAs Southwest Regional Office can be reached at: PO Box 29370, San Francisco, CA 94129-0370 and by phone (415)561-5080. PCFFAs Northwest Regional Office can be reached at: PO Box 11170, Eugene, OR 97440-3370 and by phone (541)689-2000. PCFFAs Internet Home Page is at <http://www.pcffa.org> or PCFFA can be reached by email at <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
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