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Senate Panel OKs Conservation Bill

July 25, 2000

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A Senate panel approved a landmark conservation bill Tuesday that supporters say will provide a reliable $3 billion a year for buying land, restoring coastlines and protecting wildlife.

Western Republicans and other critics vowed to continue fighting the bill, which they termed a federal land grab and ``pile of pork.″

The Energy and Resources Committee approved the bill 13-7 with four Republicans joining all nine Democrats. The vote came after 11 hours of debate over five days.

``This is the most significant commitment of resources ever made to conservation by the Congress,″ said Chairman Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska.

The White House supports the bill and the House overwhelmingly approved a similar measure in May. Unlike the House version, the Senate bill would require Congress to vote on each purchase.

Mike Hardiman, a lobbyist for the American Land Rights Association and bill opponent, said critics would step up efforts to defeat the measure in the Senate.

``This is a $45 billion pile of pork,″ Hardiman said. ``We’re going to fight this to the last ditch.″

Murkowski said he believes the bill has the 60 votes necessary to stop a filibuster.

The bill would create a $3 billion-a-year fund for 15 years to pay for an array of conservation activities, from restoring beaches to creating urban parks. The money would come from oil and gas leases, primarily in the Gulf of Mexico and off Alaska.

The bill would provide $450 million a year for federal land purchases and another $450 million for states to buy property. The remaining money would be spent on conservation programs, but only if Congress spends the $450 million for federal land purchases.

Despite inducements such as doubling payments to local governments to replace lost tax revenue for federal land, Western Republicans still don’t like the bill. They say the government mismanages land it already owns and shouldn’t add more acreage.

The bill is H.R. 701.

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On the Net: The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee: http://www.senate.gov/(tilde)energy

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