WASHINGTON - Senate Republicans from energy-rich Western states are split over the benefits of President Bush's plan to provide $900 million a year for a federal-state land buying conservation program.
Bush often points to his plan to give the full amount of money that Congress authorizes for the Land and Water Conservation Fund as a key part of his conservation platform, particularly in response to criticism from Democrats and advocacy groups over his environmental policies.
But some Western Republicans questioned whether the money - including $450 million for state grants - would only serve to strengthen the government's hand at the expense of private property owners.
"Are the people really going to have a say over what's purchased?" asked Sen. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, said while "there is a respectable split on this committee," not everyone on it is opposed to Bush's plan.
But he also cautioned that "we suffer the illusion that if the federal government owns it, it is environmentally safe and sound. I think the federal government's reputation of protecting the environment should be re-examined. Clearly the private sector can play a very vital role."