OCS bill to provide $2Bn for impact assistance, conservation and state recreation

The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources has introduced a bill to direct offshore oil and gas production revenues to coastal states and communities affected by energy development activities, thus providing a funding source for state recreation and wildlife conservation programs.

If enacted, the bill will provide one-half (around $2 billion) of outer continental shelf (OCS) revenues from the federal treasury to coastal state communities; state park, recreation and wildlife conservation programs; and federal land acquisition.

The revenue collected would be divided between three categories: 27% for OCS impact assistance; 16% for Land and Water Conservation Fund purposes; and 7% to state Wildlife Conservation Programs.

The lead sponsors of the Conservation and Reinvestment Act of 1999 on 19 January were Senators Frank H. Murkowski (Republican, Alaska), Mary Landrieu (Democrat, Louisiana), Jeff Sessions (Republican, Alabama), Trent Lott, (Republican, Mississippi), John Breaux (Democrat, Louisiana) and Judd Gregg (Republican, New Hampshire).

“This is a significant piece of conservation legislation,” Murkowski, Chairman of the Energy Committee, said in his floor statement. “We must ensure that not only coastal states have money to address the effects of OCS activities, but that all states have funds necessary to provide outdoor recreation and conservation programs.”

Murkowski said the bill acknowledges that all coastal states, including those that border the Great Lakes, have unique needs, and directs a portion of OCS revenues to be shared with those states. For the 34 states involved, the distribution formula will be based on production (50%), coastline miles (25%) and population (25%) with each to receive a minimum of 0.5 percent.

Under the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and Wildlife Conservation titles, OCS revenues are shared with all states. “More than 30 years ago, Congress had the foresight to recognise the ever-growing need of the American public for parks and recreation facilities with the creation of the LWCF,” Murkowski said. “Unfortunately, the President has not requested any money for the state-side portion of the LWCF for the last four years. Our bill would make that program self-sufficient.”

The legislation would provide money for federal land acquisition, as long as those lands lie within the boundaries of conservation areas established by an Act of Congress. Furthermore, specific language in the bill would prohibit the federal government from using LWCF funds to condemn any property.

“To many westerners, including myself,” Murkowski commented, “the federal government already owns too much land. Nonetheless, the demand for federal land acquisition dollars is significant. Many inholders, who want to sell, have been waiting for decades to receive compensation from the federal government for their property. In many instances these landowners must suffer with restrictions on access to and use of their lands while they wait endlessly for the funds to compensate them for their land.”

The final title dealing with Wildlife Conservation programs is a no-tax alternative to the Teaming with Wildlife proposal. States will be able to use funds provided by the legislation to increase fish and wildlife populations and improve fish and wildlife habitat, Murkowski explained.

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