WASHINGTON - Alaska U.S. Rep. Don Young has sponsored a conservation bill that, if passed by Congress this week, would increase federal spending in the state by about $165 million a year.
Proponents say the Conservation and Reinvestment Act is long overdue, and will pay for environmental research, private land buyouts, recreation projects and historic preservation work.
Budget hawks, however, allied with property rights activists, are lined up against the bill. Congress is expected to vote Wednesday.
Under the bill, every state would share in the bounty, though coastal states would receive the bulk. Nationwide, the cash distribution to state and federal agencies would claim about $2.85 billion of the federal government's $4 billion in annual offshore oil leasing revenue.
Alaska's per capita share would be about $270. The next closest state is Louisiana, with a $70 per capita share. The average falls rapidly from there, to less than $20 per capita in 38 states.
In the House, 316 out of 435 members have signed on as co-sponsors of the bill. The strong majority reflects the diverse coalition of citizen groups backing the bill -- environmentalists, county and state governments, chambers of commerce, outdoor recreation and sporting goods industries, hunting groups and historic preservationists, among others.
``When you see the sprawl and you see the other threats that are occurring, people are saying `Wait a minute, if we don't have some long-term planning we won't have any open spaces left,''' said Rindy O'Brien, a Wilderness Society vice president in Washington who heads the bill's main coalition of proponents, Americans for Our Heritage and Recreation.
``We should take a portion of those receipts from depleting nonrenewable resources and preserve something,'' he said.
Mike Hardiman, a lobbyist for the American Land Rights Association, said the bill amounts to a government land grab.
``This is a monstrous scam for two states -- Alaska and Louisiana,'' Hardiman said.
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