On Monday night, the House of Representatives passed bipartisan legislation, the Coastal and Estuarine Land Conservation Program Act (House Resolution 1907), introduced by Rep. Lois Capps, D-Calif., and Rep. Jim Saxton, R-N.J., by a vote of 313-59. The legislation codifies a successful program that supports state efforts to protect critical wildlife habitat and open space from development.

“Now more than ever, the pressures of development along our coast threatens wildlife habitat, historic sites and open space,” said Capps, a member of the House Natural Resources Committee. “That’s why we need to formally establish this vital conservation program within NOAA. Protection of these lands is essential if we hope to provide public access, preserve our common heritage and maintain a healthy coastal environment.”

The Coastal and Estuarine Land Protection Act formally authorizes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to establish a competitive program to provide coastal states with federal matching funds to acquire coastal properties, either in full or through conservation easements. The federal funds provided through this program would be combined with state, local and private funding for the protection of these sensitive coastal areas.

Since 2003, a version of this program has been funded on a temporary basis through annual appropriations bills. To date, the NOAA has spent $176 million to support 119 acquisition projects in 25 coastal states and territories, including several projects on the Central Coast.

The bill would make important improvements in the program, increase the authorized level of funding available for projects and provide a better framework for its administration based on the experience of the past five years. It also would ensure consistent application and implementation of the program throughout the country. Numerous environmental and community groups, including the Trust for Public Land, a land conservancy group, have endorsed the bill.

Randolph Harrison is chief of staff for Rep. Lois Capps.