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Who's Been Coaching Hoffman?


    Vice President Dick Cheney had his roomful of energy industry officials when he drafted the Bush administration's energy policy, and now it seems the Interior Department's Paul Hoffman had some coaches of his own when it came to revising the National Park Service's Management Policies.
    Hoffman apparently was doodling around with the revisions for roughly two years, so going back to 2003. Turns out that Hoffman met with representatives from air tour companies who offer flights over the Grand Canyon and other national parks back in January of 2003. During that meeting, talk centered around "relooking at the series of oppressive air tour regulations which have been implemented. Meetings have been held with key members of Congress and staff about developing legislation to address many of these issues."

    So how did air tour companies fare in Hoffman's revisions? Welllll, his handiwork would rephrase language pertaining to overflights so that the Park Service would take steps only to mitigate "impairment or significant adverse impacts resulting from aircraft overflights."
    The existing language calls for the Park Service to "take all necessary steps to avoid or to mitigate adverse effects from aircraft overflights."  Just a few subtle word changes, but the bottomline changes dramatically.
    Folks are digging to see whom else Hoffman might have received input from in preparing revisions. Don't be surprised if the snowmobile industry shows up.
    And to be fair, all administrations -- Democratic and Republican -- cater to their friends, whether they be the environmental groups the Clinton administration pandered to from time to time or the air tour operators and snowmobile industry that the Bush administration wants to keep happy.
    However, someone's gotta draw a line when that pandering impacts not just the environment, but an institution as noble, soul-satisfying and far-reaching as the national park system. We have enough theme parks out there and millions of acres for snowmobilers to play on without invading and overrunning national parks without sensible restrictions.
    For an excellent review of what Hoffman proposed to do, visit They've posted the redline workup of his changes.


Hoffman's meeting with air tour industry folks isn't surprising. He's the driving force behind the Alternative Dispute Resolution process underway now regarding Grand Canyon airtour regulations. The law ordering "substantial restoration of natural quiet" to the Canyon has been on the books for about 18 years but the Federal Aviation Administration and the Park Service have not yet acheived its goal. There have been many lawsuits, brought by the air tour industry, who doesn't want to be regulated, and by the conservation side, who wants natural quiet "substantially restored." FAA has a history of non-cooperation with the NPS. Its pilots vs. poets. Since this administration didn't have the stomach to push for full implementation of the Overflights Act, Hoffman proposed "dispute resolution" which hopefully won't be a process through which the original goal of natural quiet restoration is weakened. (Hey if industry objects, there must be something wrong with the law, right? Memories of "Clear Skies," anyone?) But Management Policies certainly tie into the Overflights act and the more recent National Parks Air Tour Management Act, which passed in 2000 and is also being implemented at a snails pace due to FAA and NPS policy and process disputes. An improved situation would be if FAA had its wings clipped and the Park Service could treat air tour operators like concessionairss. I know park lovers have some suspicions about concessionaires but by making air tour operators concessionaires, the parks could write contracts that define who can fly and where, when and how. NPS could collect concession fees from air tour ops too. (They're supposed to be collecting fees now -- and maybe they are -- but many air tour operators have a history of not reporting their flight numbers, which determine their fees to Grand Canyon and the big Hawaii parks.) And, of course, many parks could decide that they don't want air tours and say "no thanks." Perhaps that's politically infeasible, especially since the Senate Minority leader is also on the air tour operators side. (Big biz in Las Vegas) That's all for now. Keep it up, Kurt. -MM

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