President Clinton signed the Department of the Interior Appropriations Act into law on 11 October, describing it as “the single largest annual investment in protecting our green and open spaces since Theodore Roosevelt our Nation on the path of conservation nearly a century ago.” However, environmental groups criticised the bill’s lack of a sound guarantee that the money will be delivered.

The bill authorises a total of $12 billion over the next six years to be allocated to various conservation programmes protecting parks, forests and coastlands, largely by tapping revenues from offshore oil leases, as well as funds for a host of other activities. It will more than triple current levels of funding for conservation by 2006, the final year of the bill’s authorisation, and doubles it by next year. The White House emphasised that individual states and local communities will be responsible for more than two-thirds of the funds. However, for environmentalists and others this bill was a climbdown from the Conservation and Reinvestment Act (CARA), which was solely targeted at environmental issues and would have provided significantly more funding for conservation programmes than the Interior appropriations measure, but which was blocked by a Senate vote.

At the bill’s signing in the White House garden, Clinton stated that he had hoped for even more money for the bill and stated his enthusiasm for the provision establishing a land acquisition trust fund to be used for conservation purposes. “It is a remarkable piece of legislation that provides a lasting legacy for our grandchildren by establishing for the first time a dedicated and protected fund that states, communities and federal agencies can use to buy and protect precious federal land.”

The Federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which has been used to protect ancient California redwoods and prevent mining in Yellowstone National Park, will receive multi-year funding from the proposals. The bill may also be applied to protect the Big Sur coast in California, the Everglades in Florida, and the tallgrass prairie in North and South Dakota.

“It (the bill) includes funding for research into energy efficiency to reduce our dependence on oil and address climate change, through initiatives like the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles, which will aid in the development of a new generation of ultra-efficient cars,” Clinton said of the project which will get $817 million in funds from the bill.

The bill also allocates $2.9 billion to address the economic and environmental impacts of summer 2000’s western wildfires, more than twice levels of current spending, as well as providing additional funding for wildland fire suppression. It also establishes a $400 million fund to protect US coastal environments, including programmes to aid endangered Pacific salmon, coral reefs, marine sanctuaries and estuarine reserves.

However, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), the nation’s largest member-supported conservation group, amongst other environmental groups, have been quick to criticise the bill. “This plan is a promise of too little, when America needs a guarantee of much more,” said NWF President Mark Van Putten. “The plan going to the president is a basket of rosy promises that may, or may not, be kept in the future, depending on the prevailing political wind when Congress decides whether or not to actually make the funds available.”

The NWF also bemoaned the lack of guaranteed cash to environmental programmes. “The plan creates an unwieldy arrangement under which states must compete for part of an inadequate, federally-controlled conservation pot,” Van Putten said.

“Under CARA, $350 million annually would flow directly to states for wildlife conservation on an assured basis. The plan passed by Congress only appropriates $50 million for state wildlife conservation for one year, while holding out the possibility that more funding might become available over the succeeding five years, all on a competitive basis,” he added.

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