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House Interior Appropriations Budget Carries Ill Winds for National Park System



With all the drama surrounding the White House negotiations to raise the nation's debt limit without doing further damage to the country's fiscal profile, legislation still working its way through the House of Representatives understandably takes a backseat.

But as crafted, the proposal concerning Fiscal Year 2012 funding for the Interior Department stands to do more than a little harm to the National Park Service's fiscal fitness, and also threatens to degrade the watersheds that drain into the Colorado River as it runs through Grand Canyon National Park.

"In its current form, it's deeply damaging to our national parks, Grand Canyon in particular," John Garder, the National Parks Conservation Association's budget and appropriations legislative representative, said Monday.

As it stands, the bill would, if enacted, reduce overall funding for the Park Service, weaken air and water regulations that are needed to protect park resources, and stall efforts to let the agency acquire a private 1,400-acre inholding in Grand Teton National Park.

The legislation, which was scheduled to be considered by the full House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday, has drawn criticism from a number of groups concerned about its environmental impact.

Trout Unlimited issued a release last week that condemned the bill, saying it "cuts funding for essential conservation programs like the Land and Water Conservation Fund and North American Wetlands Conservation Act, and contains harmful riders that undermine the Clean Water Act and other protective rules for rivers and streams."

“Fishing and hunting generate $76.7 billion annually in economic activity in the U.S.,” said Steve Moyer, vice president for government affairs at Trout Unlimited.  “We can’t expect to sustain this powerful economic engine if we’re removing the very conservation programs that make it run.”

At the Natural Resources Defense Fund, Scott Slesinger, the group's legislative director, said the legislation "is a contract on America masquerading as a spending bill. It’s nothing short of a declaration of war on our most basic health protections."

"It would do away with fundamental safeguards that keep our air, water and lands clean. Worse than making deep budget cuts, the bill is chock full of gratuitous policy riders that are unprecedented in number and scope. They have no place in a budget -- or anywhere else.”

Back at NPCA, Mr. Garder said one of the most egregious riders, or amendments, to the bill would block efforts to continue a moratorium on new mining claims on 1 million acres surrounding Grand Canyon National Park for 20 years.

“What really put us over in the edge in opposing this bill were the policy riders, in particular one that would undermine protections for the Grand Canyon," he said during a phone call from his Washington, D.C., office.

The proposed 1 million-acre buffer was identified "through a public process that allowed for public comment, and 300,000 people commented and the determination was that it is appropriate for the protection of Grand Canyon and for the 25 or so million people who rely on the Colordao River for drinking water and their uses," said Mr. Garder.

If the moratorium is not put in place and uranium mining claims are allowed, “It is not unfathomable to imagine that those who are hiking around the Grand Canyon would have to note in which streams there is uranium contamination and carry their own water," he added.

Conservation groups are not the only organizations that support the 20-year moratorium, said Mr. Garder, noting support for it from the Metropolitan Water District of Los Angeles, the Southern Nevada Water Authority, the Central Arizona Project, and Native American tribes in the Southwest.

Other sections of the proposed legislation the NPCA takes issue with include:

* Efforts to weaken or remove Environmental Protection Agency regulation of greenhouse gases;

* Efforts to weaken EPA regulation of coal ash;

* Efforts to weaken oversight of stormwater discharges, something that can lead to degredation of waters such as the Chesapeake Bay;

* Cuts to the Land and Water Conservation Fund that would zero out funding for Park Service lands acquisition;

* A $7 million cut in National Park Service funding.

“That is less than 1 percent," Mr. Garder said of the $7 million, "but it is on top of the cuts that park operations received last year. Something that concerns us is backtracking on funding for an account that is essential to ensuring our parks operate essentially.”

The Park Service already is underfunded by roughly $600 million a year, according to the NPCA, and this proposed cut, while small, would nevertheless have to be absorbed by the parks, he said.

Without the LCWF land acquisition funding, the Park Service also might not be able to move forward with the $107 million purchase from the state of Wyoming of 1,400 acres inside Grand Teton. The administration had been counting on the LCWF funds to start the purchase with a $10 million downpayment in the coming fiscal year, according to Mr. Garder.

“But when there is an effort to prevent any new land acquisition projects in FY12, that’s going to seriously undermine that multi-year effort, and the threat of development there should not be underestimated," said Mr. Garder. "It’s critical that this bill go through if we’re going to prevent the building of trophy mansions or subdivisions in the middle of Grand Teton National Park.”

The House measure also carries an 18 percent cut to the Park Service's construction budget, which the president had already reduced by $50 million in his budget proposal, said the NPCA budget analyst.

“If you look at the suite of those (construction) needs, there are some projects in there that are clearly very important for the protection of visitor safety and the protection of the historic and natural resources,” Mr. Garder said.

For instance, at Grand Canyon National Park there's a $16 million need for a storage system for potable water for park visitors, and at the Statue of Liberty National Monument there's a need for asbestos abatement work, roofing, sidewalk repairs, and seawall repairs that alone are estimated to cost nearly $11 million, he said.

“Many of those jobs are contracted to businesses, and so there is a direct jobs loss component when you are reducing the ability for the Park Serivce to engage in some of those contracts to do some of those basic repairs,” said Mr. Garder.

How the legislation will fare after the House Appropriations Committee deals with it remains to be seen, he said. The full House might take it up next week, or possibly not until September. And the Senate has not even started its work on the Interior Appropriations measure, he said.

Of course, the lawmakers could find themselves having to go back to square one, depending on how negotiations over the nation's debt limit go with the White House.


Thanks for drawing attention to this awful bill.  It looks like it's going to be debated in the House this week, so there's still time for folks to contact their reps.

justin - what are you willing to give up instead?


Taxpayer-funded subsidies to oil companies, for one.

But the bill is especially egregious, in my opinion, because many of the provisions slipped in do not even address budgetary issues.  For example, it undermines 1) the EPA's authority to limit carbon pollution from stationary sources as it is required to do by the Clean Air Act, 2) clean water protections 3) standards on toxic coal ash disposal 4) Clean Air Act permitting processes for drilling off of Alaska's coast; it 5) blocks the listing of endangered species; it would 6) allow uranium mining near the Grand Canyon; etc.

EPA does not effect budgetary issues?  The arguments here are so misleading.  Unelected EPA officials (forget the extreme rhetoric) making decisions with political verbiage (buzzwords) are HUGE job killers and effect every single individual in the country, ruining businesses and killing jobs.  Everyone needs to get real in a gradually more frightening fantasy land.  Fact check EVERYTHING you here is what I'd suggest!

Didn't NPS get 700 Million in stimulus dollars over and above their budget last year ?  I need to do some more fact checking.  The media does so little of it anymore:).

Reality Check, before you start casting aspersions, here are some more facts: At last tally the Park Service's maintenance backlog was about $11 BILLION, and its annual budget shortfall about $600 MILLION.

So while the Park Service did get a seemingly healthy slice of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds, it's still far, far, far in the hole.

As for the EPA's actions being job killers, pollution from antiquated coal-fired power plants and mountaintop coal mines kills vegetation, lakes, and streams and has a decidedly deleterious affect on most all living creatures.

And let's not overlook that tiny mound of uranium tailings piled along the Colorado River near Moab: "When the processing operations ceased in 1984, an estimated 16 million tons of uranium mill tailings and tailings-contaminated soil were present in an unlined impoundment located in the western portion of the property."

It took an act of Congress to get a cleanup under way, one that continues today with two trains a day, Monday through Friday, hauling the tailings away from the river to a better storage area. Perhaps if the EPA were in existence when this operation began we wouldn't have this mess today.

We need industry, but we also need oversight to protect nearby residents and the environment. That's the reality of it.

"Taxpayer-funded subsidies to oil companies, for one."

LOL  In 2010 Exxon paid $90 billion in taxes and had net income of $30 million.  the top 5 oil companies wrote checks for more than $140 billion to pay taxes - well over 100% of their net income.  Tell me - what oil company is being "subsidized"?

Oh and by the way - they actually don't pay the taxes - you do - in the form of higher gas prices.

I don't know, ec, according to CNNMoney, Exxon Mobil had "net income" of $7.56 billion during the second quarter of 2010 alone. And according to a story in the New York Times, BP "used a tax break for the oil industry to write off 70 percent of the rent for Deepwater Horizon — a deduction of more than $225,000 a day since the lease began..."

Add supposedly the profits kept rolling in 2011:

Climate Progress, an environmental advocacy site that presumably isn't too fond of big oil, reports that ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, Chevron, and Shell posted a combined $18.2 billion in first quarter profits — a 40 percent increase over their profits in the first quarter of 2010. BP, hampered by financial responsibilities due to last year's oil spill, settled for a mere $5.5 billion profit, a measly 17 percent increase over 2010's first quarter numbers. The story says big oil receives $4 billion in annual
tax subsidies for domestic drilling and prediction, just to sweeten the pot.

  Have you seen any reports to the contrary?

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