- The Washington Times - Friday, June 22, 2001

OAK MOUNTAIN, Ala. — President Bush yesterday highlighted his environmental plan to allow states to decide how they spend federal money, saying he doesnt believe "all knowledge and wisdom resides in Washington, D.C."
From the shore of a fishing lake near the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, Mr. Bush said his plan — included in next years budget — gives states $450 million in block grants they can use however they choose.
"Federal money is most useful when it comes without strings, when it comes without dictates. And so I believe we need to give states new flexibility on how to manage their conservation and resources," Mr. Bush said.
"You could use the money to buy parkland; you can use it to protect endangered species; you can use it to try to get the hydrilla that clog some of our lakes. … You could have a generation of environmental programs working with landowners to protect wildlife.
"There is a lot states can do with the money. And its important for the federal government to understand that," the president said.
Mr. Bush has been criticized in the press for what some perceive as an anti-environmental policy, citing his call to drill in Alaskas Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and his decision to abandon formally a restrictive international global warming treaty. The administration has spent the past several months working to reverse the perception.
Yesterdays event, like earlier ones at the Sequoia National Forest in California and the Everglades in Florida, broke little new ground, citing programs already proposed by Mr. Bush or approved by Congress.
The grant money Mr. Bush has proposed for fiscal 2002, which begins Oct. 1, is $340 million more than this year. The president proposes funding the 36-year-old Land and Water Conservation Fund, which finances state and federal efforts, at the highest level — $900 million.
"For a long period of time, the federal government has been falling short on its commitment to this fund, and many states have been denied money that was promised the citizens. And thats not fair, and under the budget I have submitted to the United States Congress, that practice will stop," Mr. Bush said to applause.
While Mr. Bushs plan would cut some federal programs, including one for urban parks and recreation that received $30 million in the current year, his budget sends far more money to states for them to allocate to necessary projects.
"I believe trusting local people to make local decisions is the right public policy. And thats what this plan does," he said. The White House said states could choose to spend the money on the urban parks program — or whatever they deem more pressing.
"Funding goes up," said Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer. "You can go down and look at them line-item by line-item by line-item. But overall funding goes up, state flexibility goes up, so that those programs will continue to be funded at the discretion of the state."
Environmental groups decried the effort.
"This is just a big slick budget sleight of hand to make it look like hes doing something good for the environment when in fact hes reducing money for the environment," said Debbie Sease, a spokeswoman for the Sierra Club.
But Mr. Bush is seeking support not from liberal environmental groups but from voters who use park services. He has proposed spending $5 billion over five years to complete needed infrastructure improvements at the nations parks.
With Oak Mountain Lake in the background and children fishing from the shore, Mr. Bush said: "Im impressed by the fact that 600,000 people come to this park every year. It means its just not a park for the few, its a park for the many."
The president was relaxed during the short tour of the facility, which includes day camps that teach children about nature. He tossed a ball with youngsters on the banks of the lake, picked up a box turtle for closer inspection and took over a fishing pole from a child, casting the bait into the lake.
Just in case he caught anything, Mr. Bush purchased a fishing license just before the event.

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