- The Washington Times - Friday, December 3, 2004

ASSOCIATED PRESS

From an Alaska land swap to tours of a Georgia barrier island, business interests bested environmentalists in battles that shaped Congress’ $388 billion spending bill.

The legislation wasn’t completely one-sided, as it boosted expenditures for operating national parks and continued bans on oil drilling in national monuments and many offshore areas. Lawmakers also omitted business-sought provisions to help a huge Oregon logging project and to ease standards for some pesticide use.

Business groups said the spending bill, which with accompanying documents ran 3,646 pages, was too wide-ranging for either side to declare victory.

“I’d be hard-pressed to say it was a clear win,” Bruce Josten, a top lobbyist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said about the legislation that lawmakers soon will send to President Bush for his signature.

“This bill is harmful to the environment, there’s no question about it,” said Linda Lance, vice president for public policy for the Wilderness Society.

With the GOP seeking to curb spending, the bill — financing every federal agency but the departments of Defense and Homeland Security — limits overall 2005 domestic programs to 1 percent more than last year.

The National Park Service gets $1.7 billion to operate its parks, a 6 percent increase that Blake Selzer of the National Parks Conservation Association called “one of the bright spots of the bill.”

Overall spending on federal land acquisition, though, is about $166 million, well below its $444 million peak of three years ago. The Environmental Protection Agency gets $8.1 billion, 3.4 percent below last year, while agricultural conservation has been cut 3 percent from 2004 to $999 million.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, Alaska Republican and primary author of the bill, won several victories for industry in his home state.

The measure would continue a year-old provision limiting the period for legal action available to opponents of logging in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, the nation’s largest.

It also has a new provision giving 100,000 acres of Alaska’s Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge to a company that wants to drill there for oil and gas. In exchange, Doyon Ltd., a private company established by Congress for the benefit of native Alaskans, will give land to the refuge, a haven for waterfowl and other animals.

The provision has angered many environmental groups.

“You shouldn’t be swapping land inside a wildlife refuge,” said Betsy Loyless, a League of Conservation Voters lobbyist.

Supporters say the government will receive valuable habitat land while Doyon gambles that it will find minerals on the parcel it gets in return.

Another section addresses the continuation of motorized tours of Georgia’s Cumberland Island National Seashore.

About half of Cumberland, the East Coast’s largest undeveloped barrier island, is a federal wilderness area where vehicles are supposed to be forbidden. It also is dotted with historic structures and opulent estates.

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