Oklahoma's Republicans in rare split over conservation measure

Sunday, September 24th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ The state's Republican leadership is in a rare split over a measure being debated in Congress that would provide millions of dollars for Oklahoma's parks, wildlife and conservation efforts.

Republican Gov. Frank Keating's administration said the Conservation and Reinvestment Act (CARA) would help the state's ``starved parks,'' but Sen. Don Nickles and other members of the state's all-Republican congressional delegation warn it would fund a massive federal land grab.

In a 315-102 vote, the U.S. House passed a version of the bill last May with Reps. Steve Largent, Tom Coburn, Wes Watkins, J.C. Watts and Ernest Istook voting against it.

Rep. Frank Lucas was absent from the vote and has declined to take a position on the bill.

Nickles and his colleagues said if the bill was pushed forward in the Senate, they would fight it in committee by offering numerous amendments.

With only weeks left until Congress adjourns, their opposition is a real threat. But CARA's supporters include Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott. They could force a Senate vote by taking the bill to the floor and introducing it as an amendment to another piece of legislation.

Sen. Jim Inhofe also publicly opposes the measure.

The bill would provide $900 million a year for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, $350 million for the Wildlife Conservation and Restoration Fund, $125 million for Urban Park and Recreation Recovery, $100 million for Historic Preservation Fund, $200 million for Federal and Indian Lands Restoration and $150 million for conservation easements and species recovery.

It would also set aside a trust fund for the conservation of land, water and open spaces.

The Keating administration claims Oklahoma would get $21 million, which would have to be matched by state funds.

``We have incredible infrastructure needs,'' said Jayne Jayroe, Keating's director of tourism and a member of his cabinet.

``We love it that people use the state parks, but really they are just wearing out.''

In a letter to Nickles last May, Jayroe said the state's parks have a backlog of $10 million in projects that would qualify for the federal funding.

All 50 governors have united behind CARA.

Meanwhile, Nickles and the others have not backed off their criticisms.

In a letter to Sen. Frank Murkowski, chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural resources, he and four other senators said the House bill would set up an ``entitlement'' worth $42 billion over 15 years.

``We also believe that giving the current Administration a guaranteed funding stream for land acquisition will only encourage them to pursue their failed public lands agenda, which ignores the rights of private landowners and others living in states that are already largely owned by the federal government,'' they wrote.