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The Planet
March 1999 Volume 6, Number 2

Club Cheers Clinton Initiatives

by Jenny Coyle

If a spoonful of sugar can sweeten the foul flavor of medicine, then maybe the two initiatives announced by the Clinton administration in January can get rid of the bad taste left in the mouths of environmentalists by the 105th Congress.

First, Vice President Al Gore announced on Jan. 11 the "Livable Communities Initiative," a bond-funded plan aimed at reducing suburban sprawl by creating greenways and urban parks and otherwise protecting environmentally sensitive areas from development.

The following day, President Clinton announced a $1 billion program - the "Lands Legacy Initiative" - to preserve natural areas through direct purchase or conservation easements using allocations from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Topping the administration's wish list are forests in New England, the Florida Everglades, privately owned lands in the Joshua Tree and Mojave national parks in California, parcels along the Lewis and Clark Trail and some Civil War battlefields.

"While the administration proposes these as two separate initiatives, they are very interconnected, and reinforce each other," said Club Legislative Director Debbie Sease, adding that they complement two of the Club's own priority campaigns that focus on protecting wildlands and curbing sprawl.

Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope welcomed the announcement of both initiatives. "The Gore initiative to encourage the development of urban parks and protect farmlands is a good first step toward addressing suburban sprawl, which is now the fastest-growing threat to our environment," said Pope.

He explained that the initiatives proposed by the vice president potentially reverse a 50-year trend of federal policies and programs - including roadbuilding, flood control and sewer subsidies - that helped create sprawl.

"The Gore anti-sprawl proposal adds to the many local initiatives to curb sprawl that Club activists helped pass in 1998," said Larry Bohlen, co-chair of the Challenge to Sprawl Campaign.

"It's my hope that activists will use the prospect of federal funds to leverage more local open-space investments."

Pope suggested ways to add some muscle to Gore's initiative: "While the plan moves in the right direction, we encourage the administration to combine these kinds of smart investments with the elimination of traditional policies that encourage sprawl. That's what the Environmental Protection Agency did, for example, when it stopped the proposed sprawl-inducing Legacy Highway that would have destroyed wetlands outside of Salt Lake City."

"It's not enough to spend funds for open space: We also have to end subsidies for sprawl at the local, state and federal levels," added Bohlen.

As for the Lands Legacy Initiative, Pope praised the administration for "finally delivering on a promise Congress made more than 30 years ago when it established the Land and Water Conservation Fund to protect our wild places, recreation areas and wildlife habitat. The Sierra Club wants to work with the administration and Congress to perfect the mechanics of this bold proposal."

"We've already alerted Congress that we view this initiative as one of the key environmental votes in Congress this year," said Mark Pearson, chair of the Club's Wildlands Campaign. "But it's not going to walk itself through the process; we've got to push Congress - and put pressure on Clinton and Gore to push Congress - to make sure this isn't just a press release that sounds good but doesn't go anywhere.

"Land acquisition is crucial in many regions, particularly for the Maine Woods National Park proposal," he said. "We hope to not only increase LWCF appropriations this year by supporting the initiative, but also secure permanent off-budget funding for LWCF that is not subject to the whims of Congress."

Go on to the next article, "Everglades Plan Needs More for Everglades."
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