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Gulf oil spill: Santa Monica mountains could benefit from spill legislation

July 15, 2010 |  1:32 pm

What does the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area have to do with the gulf oil spill?

It and other national parks may benefit from congressional legislation growing out of the disaster.

A bill approved by the House Natural Resources Committee on Thursday would provide $900 million a year -- about triple the amount allocated this year -- for purchasing land for national parks, forests and wildlife refuges and helping states fund parks and recreation projects.

Although no decision has been made on which parks would receive the money, the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area would probably receive consideration. A funding increase would provide "the catalyst to complete our land acquisition plan for the national recreation area," according to Woody Smeck, acting deputy regional director of the National Park Service’s Pacific West Region.

"We have 22,500 acres still to acquire from willing sellers," he said. "They include seven miles of pristine coastline near Point Mugu, the last undeveloped stretch of coastal scenery in Los Angeles County.

"Acquiring the remaining lands would lock together over 85,000 acres of public parks acquired since 1978 into a green patchwork quilt immediately accessible to 17 million people in Greater Los Angeles."

The money would come from a new $2-per-barrel "conservation fee" on the domestic production of oil.

A good chunk of the money would go to the Land and Water Conservation Fund, established during the Johnson presidency. Under the law, offshore oil drilling revenues are used to preserve land.

Objecting to the provision, Rep. Doc Hastings of Washington state, the committee’s top Republican, said, "Increasing funding for this program has no place in a bill intended to focus on the gulf oil spill.’’ Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) also expressed concern that the provision would increase the cost of domestic energy production and jeopardize oil industry jobs in his state. 

But Bill Meadows, president of the Wilderness Society, said that offshore drilling has "always been predicated on the idea that the depletion of one national, non-renewable natural resource must be balanced by the long-term protection of threatened habitats, beaches, waterways and other special places across America."

-- Richard Simon, from Washington