Senate Commerce Committee Reports the Coastal and Estuarine Land Protection Act

March 16, 2006

Washington, D.C. – The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation today approved a Committee Substitute offered by Senators Sununu (R-N.H.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) to S. 1215, the Coastal and Estuarine Land Protection Act by voice vote. S. 1215 was introduced by Senator Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) on June 9, 2005 and has 23 cosponsors, including Commerce Committee Co-Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and Committee Members Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), John Kerry (D-Mass.), Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), and Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.).

S. 1215 authorizes federal funds for the purchase and protection of sensitive coastal ecosystems with the goal of better ensuring their protection from development or conversion.

Specifically, the bill directs the Secretary of Commerce, through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), to create a Coastal and Estuarine Land Protection (CELP) Program to protect important coastal and estuarine areas that have significant conservation, recreation, ecological, historical or aesthetic values and that are threatened by conversion to other uses. The establishment of such a program was a key recommendation of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, which was established under the Ocean Act of 2000.

The bill authorizes the Secretary of Commerce, through the NOAA CELP Program, to award competitive grants to coastal states with approved coastal zone management programs or National Estuarine Research Reserves (NERRs) for the purposes of acquiring property or interests in property. The bill utilizes an approach similar to the well-established Forest Legacy program administered by the Department of Agriculture, but focuses funding on protecting coastal areas. The CELP Program would provide that only states or local government entities (but not the federal government or any non-governmental entity) may hold title to property or easements, and that funds are for transactions between a willing seller and buyer. The bill also authorizes a one-time regional watershed demonstration project, which leverages an equal share of land acquisition funding from other federal contributions.

The Committee Substitute makes three key changes to S.1215:

1 It clarifies that land can only be bought from willing sellers.

2 Allows non-governmental entities to use the value of conservation easements held by the entity to qualify as the non-federal match (as opposed to requiring outright ownership of the land by state and local agencies to qualify for the match).

3 Sets authorization levels at $60 million annually.

In addition, the substitute also struck Section 4 of S. 1215, which was not directly related to the CELP Program.

The bill reported today has earned support from the following organizations: Association of National Estuary Programs; Coastal States Organization; The Conservation Fund; International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies; Land Trust Alliance; National Estuarine Research Reserve Association; The Nature Conservancy; The Trust for Public Land; and Restore America's Estuaries Editors Note: See attachment for New Hampshire conservation projects that have previously utilized CELP funding.

Click here for a copy of the bill as reported