2004 Budget Draws Criticism - US Democrats Blast Bush Plan to Cut Land Purchases
Synopsis: Senate Democrats are seeing red over spending cuts for land purchases and preservation in the 2004 budget. Money for the Interior Department’s land acquisition fund would drop by $147 million to $187 million under the Bush proposal.
The National Park Service would receive $239 million for land acquisition in 2004, down $47 million and the Bureau of Land Management would see its land purchase funds drop $21 million, to $24 million. All this prompted Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) to brand the proposals “reckless.”
“This budget may be a stark example of the poorest stewardship policy I have seen.” She demanded that Interior use oil and gas royalties to purchase more land (CARA-like). Secretary of Interior Gale Norton disagreed. During testimony at a senate hearing, Secretary Norton said: “It is irresponsible for us to keep buying more land. We already own one out of every five acres in the country.” She went on to add that before the government buys more land it must learn to take care of what it already controls.
Tuesday February 11, 5:12 pm ET
WASHINGTON, Feb 11 (Reuters) - Democratic senators on Tuesday blasted a Bush administration plan to cut spending on land preservation by the Interior Department in 2004 even while the department's proposed budget overall would soar to a record $10.7 billion.
President George W. Bush's budget proposal for the Interior Department in fiscal 2004 slashed $147 million for federal land purchases used to preserve native habitats and species. The total acquisition budget would fall to $187 million if approved by Congress.
The administration's proposed cut drew the ire of Democrats who said it marked another example of the White House distancing itself from environmental protection while favoring the interests of corporate America.
"This budget may be a stark example of the poorest stewardship policy I have seen," Sen. Mary Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat, said at a Senate Energy Committee hearing.
Landrieu called the proposal "reckless" and urged the Interior Department to use money from offshore oil lease sales and royalties to acquire additional land.
The United States has collected some $40 billion during the last decade, Landrieu estimated. In 2004, Interior expects to collect about $4 billion in royalty payments from companies producing oil and gas from federal leases.
Interior Secretary Gale Norton defended the land acquisition plan at a hearing on the agency's budget proposal.
Before buying up additional wilderness, the department must do a better job of managing the nearly 507 million acres it already controls, Norton said.
"It is irresponsible for us to keep buying more land," Norton told the committee.
For example, under the Bush plan, the Interior's National Park Service would see its funding for land acquisitions drop by $47 million to a proposed $239 million in 2004. The Bureau of Land Management would see an even deeper cut in its land purchase funds, falling $21 million to $24 million.
Western lawmakers also pressed for more thinning of forests near homes in their region. In 2002, some 7.1 million acres of forest land were scorched across the United States.
"There is a lot of criticism out there that too much is going" to fight fires away from homes, said Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat.
Together, the Forest Service and the Interior would receive $2.2 billion for firefighting programs in 2004. That would be an increase of $219 million from the last fiscal year.
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