View Header


Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release January 12, 1999
                           PRESS BRIEFING BY 

The Briefing Room

1:20 P.M. EST

MR. TOIV: Good afternoon, everybody. As you know, this is a major environmental initiative announced by the President and Vice President today, and here to brief on it, to give you additional information are George Frampton, who is the Acting Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality, and Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt.

MR. FRAMPTON: Thanks, Barry. I'm George Frampton. I'm going to give you a quick overview of the announcement the President made this morning and Secretary Babbitt, who is going to talk in a little bit more detail about the federal land acquisition, "great places" part of this, and the President's wilderness proposal.

The President proposed this morning -- announced that in the FY 2000 proposed budget the administration is asking for funding for a new $1-billion lands legacy program. This is the largest proposed lands acquisition investment program made by any president. It involves the full funding, full appropriation for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a fund which was authorized in 1965 by Congress at a maximum of $900 million a year, but the full amount of $900 million a year has never been requested by any president or appropriated in the past. So this is really an historic commitment to the protection of America's natural resources.

A little less than half of the proposal, about $450 million, is for federal land acquisition, great places, parks, refuges, and a little more than half, about $580 million is money that would go to states and local governments in the form of a series of different kinds of grants which would be designed to protect, primarily acquire and restore urban parks, green space and agricultural lands on the edges of our cities and towns.

In addition, there is $180 million that is targeted for coastal states which have their own unique set of impacts and issues and growth problems. A large amount of that is for coastal zone management program, but it's also to expand -- protect and expand the national marine sanctuary system. There are currently 12 national marine sanctuaries. The budget would commit to double that number in the next 10 years to 24 and provide adequate money for funding for coral reef protection and for a number of other coastal zone management issues.

In the state half, so to speak, the part that is not federal land acquisition money, the proposal includes $150 million for what's called "stateside land and water conservation fund grants." Those are direct grants to states and cities to purchase parkland, green space. There is an increase in the Forest Service's Forest Legacy program to help provide matching money to states and local communities to acquire easements to protect, among other things, working forests, and there is about a ten-fold increase to $80 million in the habitat protection program administered by the Department of Interior, which is money that the Interior Department shares with states and communities to buy habitat for endangered species, very important in the last couple of years in a program to help counties, for example in Southern California -- San Diego, Orange County, Riverside County -- do comprehensive planning based on habitat protection to improve the quality of communities.

So I will stop and let Secretary Babbitt talk a little bit more in detail about the new wilderness proposal that the President made and also about the federal side, and then we'll both take questions.

SECRETARY BABBITT: Thank you, George. I believe the President's proposal today is going to receive a warm and enthusiastic reception out across this country. And the reason I say that with confidence is that in the last year or two there has been growing from the grass roots in this country a concern about open space, about urban sprawl, about it is that communities can grow without destroying the very natural values that in most cases are the source of the community growth as people increasingly seek out quality of life, as employers increasingly locate jobs in communities where the people want to live in.

Now, remarkably, that sort of grass-roots resurgence of these issues has been paralleled by ballot issues, several thousand of them in the last couple of years, in which county, local and state governments have been putting up substantial amounts of dedicated tax revenues for the purchase of open space.

Now, at that point, of course, the question becomes, well, what about federal lands, what about the federal partnership that was originally contemplated when many of these laws were passed? Well, the President's proposal I think puts a lot of power and energy into a revived partnership. At the federal level we're looking at about half of that $1 billion to get some of this backlog of forests, seashores, in holdings in national parks -- areas of private land inside national parks like Grand Canyon, the Alaska parks, the Utah high desert park, and to make needed federal acquisitions.

The Everglades I think is a really good example. There's a major restoration going on down there. It is now -- the plan is now out before the public; it's an historic opportunity to continue working on the largest environmental restoration program in the history of this country.

Some of the money should surely be earmarked for the so-called Catellus lands in Southern California. It's an incredible opportunity; it's half a million acres of private land interspersed with our new national parks out in the California desert. The land is available; it's been appraised. It's a matter of I think $100-some per acre. Can you imagine that? An opportunity to buy and flesh out a national park by purchasing a half a million acres of land for a couple hundred dollars an acre. Those opportunities don't come often. They're tremendously important.

There's an increasing movement up in New England to protect northern forests. Now, we should have money available either directly or for grants to the states to take advantage of some extraordinary opportunities up there.

There are many more of these, and I fully expect that members of Congress and the Senate will step forward with proposals that affect their states and districts.

Secondly is this question of wilderness. Now, in this particular case, we're talking about wilderness within national parks -- Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite and others. Why have wilderness in parks? Well, because, in the final analysis, that's what national parks are all about, is the ultimate protected status of lands which are unequivocally, for all time, set aside for one purpose, and one purpose only -- with no conflicts, no dilution of that purpose -- and that is, a place where our kids, and their kids, can experience America in its pristine, God-given state -- to see a landscape that is increasingly looking like it might have looked when Lewis and Clark were out there.

So the President has proposed to the Congress that they get moving on the five million acres of wilderness recommendations for parks, that have been before the Congress, now -- some of them from the Nixon administration, some of them from the Carter administration. I don't know whether any were sent up in the Reagan administration or not, I'm not certain about that, but -- they've been up there a long time, and the President has today announced his intention to get those going, and to find congressional sponsors and see if we can't get that backlog cleared up as well.

Okay, that's it.

Q How are you going to pay for this? You were talking a little bit about oil leases. In particular, how many leases are you talking about? Where are they going to happen? Is this more leases than you had last year?

SECRETARY BABBITT: The President is going to present, the first week into February, a balanced budget, which will show revenues, offsets and expenditures. This proposal will be a part of that budget.

Q Can you give us an idea of when he mentions off the cuff that this is going to be paid for by oil leases, we need a little more detail than that.

SECRETARY BABBITT: Look, I don't have a green eyeshade. I have studiously avoided those kinds of details. And it's not a question of which source; it's a question of an expenditure from a unified budget. That's the bottom line.

Q You don't know where the money's coming from?

SECRETARY BABBITT: Helen, the money is coming from the budget. Where does the money for the schools in your neighborhood come from?

Q Taxes.

SECRETARY BABBITT: It comes from the federal budget, right? Comes from the revenues from the federal budget. The school grants to your neighborhood school come from federal budget. This is no different.

Q Mr. Secretary, how much of this $1 billion is entirely new money not now being spent for an environmental purpose? Any of it reprogrammed --

SECRETARY BABBITT: Well, the Land and Water Conservation Fund last year I think had a total of $300-some-odd million, so it's a step up of about $700 million.

MR. FRAMPTON: Perhaps I could respond to the question about oil leases. Offshore oil receipts to the Federal Treasury are currently $3.5 billion a year. What the Land and Water Conservation Fund legislation did in 1965 was to say $900 million of that is available every year for conservation purposes; but, in fact, Congress has never appropriated anywhere near that much, so the balance of that $900 million, together with other offshore oil receipts have always just gone back into the general Treasury.

There's no proposal here for new oil drilling; this is only a portion of the receipts that come in every year from existing oil wells. What's different about this proposal is, first, that it recommends that the entire amount originally made available, $900 million a year, would go to conservation, and, second, the President announced this morning that he will work with Congress to try to make this $1 billion a year that's proposed for FY 2000 a permanent stream of financing, so that you would take the annual battle over how much goes to conservation and turn it into a guaranteed stream of $1 billion a year, a very long-term legacy that would have to be used for conservation and land protection purposes.

Q Can you explain if, in the past, Congress has never come close to approving that much money, why do you think it will be any different this year?

SECRETARY BABBITT: It'll be different this year for the reasons that I so eloquently explained in my opening statement. There's a lot of attention out there. There's demand. Ultimately, the assurances of the folks back home. And I think if you get out there around the countryside, you're going to see that this is really -- I mean, when New Jersey passes a $1-billion bond issue for this very purpose, you don't think the people who went to the polls in New Jersey made a statement, and you don't think that they're ready to say, look, we've made that effort and it's appropriate and indeed, imperative that the Congress join this partnership, initiate it at the state and local level.

Q In the final weeks of the last Congress, Senator Landrieu and Congressman Young were among the people pushing a bill that would have spent some $3 billion in they say similar programs. How did that bill differ? You opposed that bill, correct? How does that differ from what you're proposing?

MR. FRAMPTON: I think the President has made a commitment and we're looking forward to working with the Congress on a bipartisan basis to try to shape this program. Now, one major difference between the Landrieu and other bills is that they have proposed more than $1 billion of annual guaranteed funding, but they haven't identified a way to pay for it.

What the President will do in the budget is to include this $1 billion a year within the budget caps fully paid for. That's number one. Number two, the administration's proposal that the President announced today, is very much focused on both the Great Places Land Acquisition federal acquisition money, but also on promoting livable communities, open space in our own communities program. So in that respect, the focus differs a little bit from the Landrieu bill, which tends to be more for the coastal states.

But I think that the President is going to work with the Congress, and we're going to try to put together something that will pass this year.

Q Will there be -- Secretary Babbitt, you sent a bunch of land acquisition proposals up to the Hill last year, or the year before, and a lot of them you had a lot of trouble convincing them that those were the areas that you should buy. Do you anticipate some problems in terms of arguments over where this money -- not that you're going to buy land, but what land you're going to buy?

SECRETARY BABBITT: Oh, I think inevitably there will be some give and take between all of the parties in the Congress, and the administration. That's been the case in the past, and certainly there will be some of that, sure.

Q What is the wilderness protection for the national park areas? Does that mean no roads, no -- any commercial development, nothing?

SECRETARY BABBITT: Yeah, the essential add-on, from a wilderness designation in a national park, is precisely that. No more roads; no motorized intrusions. No snowmobiles, jet-skis, ORVs. That's the real issue and it, of course, precludes any kind of development as well. And, sometimes, that does happen in national parks, however well-intentioned. And we need to make sure that it doesn't.

Q In terms of the lands that are being proposed, are there new areas being proposed? Or is this all working off backlog of previous set-aside proposals?

SECRETARY BABBITT: Oh, no, I think there will be some new priorities. Inevitably there are. I mean, life goes on and circumstances change. Who could have imagined, ten years ago, that we would have a gold mine ready for development on the edge of Yellowstone? Or that the Headwaters Forest, to take an example from last year, would be under siege by chainsaw? The most prominent of the new opportunities this year is the so-called Catellus acquisition that I described. And, inevitably, there will be more of those. So I think it's a matter of the administration clearly asserting its priorities -- a function of old and new -- and being sensitive and responsive to Congressional requests, provided they fit the criteria that are laid out by the land management agencies.

Q -- any strong opposition?

SECRETARY BABBITT: Helen, I don't think so. I don't think so. You know, I'm kind of a newcomer around this town, and I'm prepared for a surprise. But I think this is a winner.

Q No rancher is going to get in your way?

SECRETARY BABBITT: Look. This is about sending checks.

Q The budget, now -- I would presume there would be some kind of battle over -- if you're removing this money from the oil leases that had gone into the general fund, I mean, you still have $900 million or whatever to replace.

SECRETARY BABBITT: Look, that's why I refused to take the bait that was offered last time. It's important to think of this as a budget proposal. And the President, the first week in February, is going to, as I understand it from my sort of -- I'm just a gamekeeper, I'm not a budget guy -- but my understanding of a budget is, the President lays out these expenditures, lays out all these integrated revenues and draws a line across them and they all balance.

But, see, this is for all time. I don't want to get over-enthused here, but these are investments that will be with us forever. I think the Congress members are getting increasingly appreciative of that.

Q If Teddy Roosevelt could do it, you can.

SECRETARY BABBITT: Absolutely. I don't have many game trophies to show. Helen, were you here when TR had all those heads mounted on the walls of the White House?

Q I deserved that. (Laughter.)

MR. FRAMPTON: Thank you. I don't know for those of you -- I don't know what you have, the briefing paper, but for those of you who were not out there at the Arboretum or don't have a paper, Ted Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt IV was out at the Arboretum with the President and Vice President and spoke about this today.

MR TOIV: Joe will be out shortly.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END 1:40 P.M. EST