The embattled Conservation and Reinvestment Act of 1999 (H.R. 701/S. 25) will have a rougher road to travel on its way through the legislative process than its supporters expected.
CARA was approved by a 37-12 vote by the House Resources Committee on November 10 in a raucous, bitter four-hour markup. Only 13 of the committee’s 28 Republicans voted for the bill, and nearly all voted for one or more of the numerous amendments offered during the session. CARA sponsor and Committee Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska) tried for nine months to gain majority GOP support, but fell short and relied on unanimous Democratic support to fight off amendments and win committee approval.
Following the Resources Committee vote, the House leadership decided to require further review of CARA by both the House Budget Committee and the House Agriculture Committee. It is not known when those committees will take up the bill.
The bill’s opponents, including property rights organizations, taxpayer advocacy groups, and others, will encourage the two committees to act on what they regard as the bill’s shortcomings. The American Land Rights Association (ALRA), National Taxpayers Union, and Americans for Tax Reform testified against the bill, and are joined by many others in opposition, including the American Farm Bureau Federation.
“Not one acre of private property anywhere in the country is safe,” warned ALRA Executive Director Chuck Cushman. “CARA dedicates $450 million per year to the states for land acquisition, and they are permitted unlimited power to condemn land and force people off their property. The federal government then helps itself to an additional annual $450 million for land acquisition. Families, small businesses, and farmers without the means to put up with regulatory harassment will be pressured into selling whether they want to or not.”
“This bill has very little to do with the environment and a lot to do with old-fashioned pork barrel spending,” Cushman continued. The state of Alaska, home of H.R. 701 sponsor Rep. Don Young, is slated to receive $166 million annually–$272 per person per year for fifteen years. And Louisiana, home of S. 25 sponsor Senator Mary Landrieu, will receive $313 million per year, a substantial benefit for one of the nation’s poorest states.
Most hunting organizations currently support CARA. However, a major figure in the sportsmen’s community has expressed his concern about the influence animal rights groups may have on CARA funds, and he is actively lobbying sportsmen to oppose the bill.
Ray Arnett is a former president of the National Wildlife Federation, and a former executive director of the National Rifle Association. He was also a high-ranking official in the Interior Department during the Reagan administration. In a letter to members of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus, Arnett wrote:
Animal rights extremists have already taken aim at the Pittman-Robertson fund in an effort to deny access for hunting and fishing. One of the goals within the Animal Protection Institute’s (API) effort to abolish hunting is to “change the constituency of power within our wildlife management agencies and the funding sources that maintain these government agencies.”
“CARA fits perfectly into the plans of API, since it will provide a revenue source outside of the sportsmen-paid excise taxes to fund Pittman-Robertson. There is no question that animal rights activists will target for acquisition fish and game clubs, leases, and other private land where the taking of renewable wildlife resources is permitted. Once the land is purchased and under government control, these well-funded, anti-sportsmen groups will lobby Congress and government agencies for the elimination of any consumptive use of wildlife resources.”
Congressman Ralph Regula, chairman of the Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Interior, has also expressed his strong opposition to CARA. In a December 3 interview with the trade newsletter Federal Parks and Recreation, he said “[CARA’s] a mistake. An entitlement is not the way for us to be going. When the Park Service talks about a $5 billion maintenance backlog and the Forest Service has a similar $5 billion backlog, when 30 percent of the land in this country is owned by the federal government, I don’t think it’s necessary to acquire more land. When we have a $5 trillion national debt, why should we take $450 million per year and give it to states, nearly every one of which has a surplus?”
Mike Hardiman is a Washington, DC-based lobbyist for the American Land Rights Association.
For more information
and regular updates on the status of CARA, visit the Web site of the American Land Rights Association at http://www.landrights.org/.