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Bill Lets Countries Pay Debt Through Conservation

Fri., March 20, 1998

Developing countries around the world would be able to reduce debts to the United States by protecting their tropical forests under legislation that passed the House on Thursday.

Called “debt-for-nature” swaps, the measure expands a program set up during the Bush administration that allowed Latin American countries to trade debt for investment in the environment.

“This legislation is creative problem-solving at its best,” said Rep. Tony Hall, D-Ohio. It “is a win for the people of the developing nations and a win for the global environment at a relatively low cost.”

The bill, which passed 356-61, authorizes $325 million over three years for programs to help developing countries with debts to, for example, the Agency for International Development or the Agriculture Department.

It also offers cost-free “debt buy-backs,” under which countries could buy back their debt in exchange for spending up to 40 percent of that purchase cost for tropical forest protection.

Rep. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, the author of the legislation, said that half the world’s tropical forests have disappeared since 1950 and that every year, an additional 30 million to 40 million acres, the size of the state of Ohio, are lost.

“Instead of just writing off those debts as we do now, this bill will ensure that the United States receives something vitally important in return - tangible conservation efforts in those countries to protect these essential forests,” he said.

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