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Oman: Rain Forest Funds Safe

Grassley Calls for Spending Freeze

Adam Pracht

Iowa City Press-Citizen

September 21, 2005

[Note: This material is copyright by the Press-Citizen, and is reproduced here as a matter of "fair use" for non-commercial, educational purposes only. Any other use may require the prior approval of the Iowa City Press-Citizen.]

CORALVILLE -- Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said Wednesday that an across-the-board freeze of federal spending could help to pay for Hurricane Katrina relief, but the executive director of a planned rain forest project said its federal funds were unlikely to disappear.

"It would require a pretty dramatic reversal," said David Oman, executive director of The Environmental Project.

The $180 million project planned for southeast of Interstate 80 and First Avenue would enclose 4.5 acres of rain forest as well as build a 1 million gallon aquarium and a teaching space.

While an aid program designed to help Katrina could reach $200 billion, Grassley indicated in a conference call with reporters Wednesday that he thought most of the budget re-adjustments to pay for it would come in the 2007 fiscal year. The budgeting process for that year will begin in about three months.

Oman said the $50 million Federal Department of Energy grant going to the Environmental Project was secured three fiscal years earlier -- in the 2004 fiscal year.

He said he wasn't aware of any precedent that would allow the government to recall money budgeted that long ago. He also said the Department of Energy and the Iowa Child Foundation had signed a contract designating the money for the foundation.

"I wouldn't want to speak for the department, but it would be extremely hard to unravel," Oman said.

Coralville Mayor Jim Fausett said should the federal funds be removed, it could be disastrous for the completion of the project.

"I think if that should happen, I think it would probably kill the project," he said. "I don't see how they can continue without that funding."

Fausett said his understanding was that the money had been budgeted and wouldn't be recalled, but he wasn't sure.

"Sure that's a concern, but we're concerned about people in New Orleans," he said.

Oman said the disaster in the Gulf Coast was unprecedented and that it was good the government was planning an unprecedented response.

But Oman also said that in a conversation with Grassley's office Wednesday there was no indication that the federal dollars for the project was on the chopping block to fund Katrina relief.

Plenty of other recent projects are up for consideration for cutting, however, including repealing $24 billion of special projects in the recently passed highway bill and delaying a Medicare prescription drug benefit for a savings of $31 billion.

During his news conference, Grassley said it shouldn't just be up to the President Bush to find ways to fund Katrina relief.

"We've got the power of the purse, and we ought to come up with some ideas of our own," he said.