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A Push to Set Aside Offshore Drilling Money for Conservation

June 29, 2010

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - While efforts to stop or divert the flow of oil from the blown-out well in the Gulf continue, there's another effort to stop the diversion of funds from offshore oil royalties. Some in New Mexico want to see Congress fully fund the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, that they believe has been under-funded for years. The state's U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman heads the Energy and Natural Resource Committee which is looking at new regulations for offshore drilling.

Former New Mexico Game and Fish Department head Jerry Maracchini hopes they'll add language to fully fund the conservation program.

"Take some of that money and put it back in our environment. This is the only country in the world that has tremendous public managed recreation areas and refuges, and they're sorely underfunded. It'd be money well spent to permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund."

He says the fund has used offshore oil money to preserve a number of places New Mexicans may be familiar with, including the Aztec ruins, Blue Water Canyon and Tent Rocks National Monument. A preservation project in Petroglyph National Monument has been held up for several years because of a lack of funds.

Carl Dickens is president of La Cienega Valley Association near Santa Fe. His community used Land and Water Conservation Fund dollars to purchase and preserve lands he says are vital to the history and traditions of the area.

"There are two acequias in our communities, and both of those acequias are over 300 years old; and we have families that go back that far. This area that surrounds us is part of that whole cultural environment of our communities." An acequia is a communal aqueduct or waterway, still traditional in former Spanish areas.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund could also be fully funded through a stand-alone bill that has yet to pass out of Sen. Bingaman's committee. It's also been suggested that the funding could be part of a new energy and climate bill currently being worked out.

Eric Mack, Public News Service - NM