Case Overview, Providing Permanent and Mandatory Funding for Conservation Programs through the Conservation and Reinvestment Act (CARA) and Related Legislation

This document provides background information and summarizes the debate over the Conservation and Reinvestment Act (CARA). The links to the left will lead you to public documents that we have found.


          Americans of all political stripes strongly support environmental protection, especially those programs designed to preserve parks, wilderness, lakes, streams, and coastal regions. Yet despite the overwhelming support that is voiced for environmental protection, sharp differences emerge whenever Congress and agencies actually formulate policy and try to figure out ways to pay for such programs. The Conservation and Reinvestment Act (CARA) is no exception. Although virtually everyone agrees with its goals of preserving this nation's precious environmental heritage, CARA is subject to the familiar push and pull of various interest groups who differ on the means to its conservation end.
          The initial intent of CARA was to provide funding for the acquisition of land for recreational use by federal and state governments. Over the life of the program it has become more expansive in its reach and it now funds a variety of conservation efforts. What is distinctive about CARA is that at least in theory, it has a dedicated funding stream. That is, instead of deriving its funding from regular tax revenue dollars that the federal government collects from individuals and corporations, CARA is supported by fees paid by oil and gas companies. These energy firms pay an assessment to the federal government for the privilege of extracting oil and gas from offshore fields. The Izaak Walton League, an environmental organization, spells out the underlying rationale this way: "revenues derived from the exploitation of the nation's non-renewable oil and gas resources should be reinvested in the protection and restoration of renewable natural resources such as our wildlife, public lands, and coast."
          Despite its dedicated funding stream, when CARA comes up for periodic reauthorizations in the Congress, there is a struggle over just how much of the oil and gas revenue will be used to underwrite conservation efforts. There are also differences as to where the money should be spent as states with oil and gas drilling off their coasts claim a disproportionate share of the money. And there are programmatic disagreements as to what kinds of conservation efforts should receive priority.
          Such was the case when a CARA reauthorization came up in the 106th Congress. Some environmental interest groups believed that the legislation before the House and Senate did not do enough to protect coastlines. Some believed that there needed to be stronger prohibitions against additional offshore drilling. Other environmental groups were more flexible focusing instead on the wider array of goals encompassed by the program. There was also dissatisfaction with the level of funding. The dedicated funding stream did not mandate a level of budgetary support, only specifying the source of the money. In an interview an Interior Department official acknowledged that there had been a "watering down" of financial support in this area. Although the House passed legislation, a companion bill in the Senate did not emerge from the mark-up stage in committee. In the 107th Congress legislation was again introduced and considered seriously, but no bill was enacted into law.