Boy, if Paul Hoffman wasn't enough, now Republican Congressman Richard Pombo of California is in the running for recognition as the national park system's worst enemy.
According to information obtained by the National Parks Conservation Association, the House Resources Committee, which Pombo chairs, has drafted legislation calling for 15 national park units to be sold off to oil and gas interests and developers.
The sites range from the Eugene O'Neill National Historical Site in California and the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site in South Dakota to the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve in Alaska and the Thomas Stone National Historical Site in Maryland.
Oh yeah, the legislation also would allow for advertising on national park maps and in park shuttle buses, and calls for the park service to seek sponsorships for visitor centers, museums, even trails.
Committee Hopes to Cut $2.4 Billion From the Budget
The attack on the parks is contained in a budget reconciliation bill that the House Resources Committee is drafting in an effort to find $2.4 billion in savings. Another section of the legislation calls for increased off-shore oil and gas drilling in waters currently protected from that activity, as well as oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Needless to say, NPCA officials are outraged.
"Like Mr. Hoffman's recent rewrite of the National Park Service's management policies, this is another fundamental attack on America's national parks," says NPCA President Tom Kiernan. "Congressman Pombo has proposed removing from the park system and selling for profit 15 national park sites, including several that honor Revolutionary War heroes, African American leaders, American Indian culture, magnificent Alaska wilderness and wildlife, priceless archaeological sites, and even the memorial to our greatest conservation president, Theodore Roosevelt.
"Closing these parks would rip significant pages from our American story," adds Kiernan, "but could also devastate native subsistence economies in Alaska, as well as affect local economies in other states that rely on visitors to these parks to generate annual tourism revenue."
Proposed Cuts: All in the Name of "Brainstorming"
A spokesman for the House Resources Committee says the draft legislation represents a "brainstorm of all the possible alternatives."
Now doesn't that sound similar to what the National Park Service said when Hoffman's efforts to drastically rewrite the agency's Management Policies came to light? I believe the phrasing then was that Hoffman's revisions were a "devil's advocate's" approach to rethinking the Management Policies.
If Pombo really wants to save some money without gutting some of America's most treasured spots, he should reopen the federal highway bill that Congress passed this summer. That contained enough pork to choke a hyena.
For instance, there was $2.3 million to spruce up the Ronald Reagan Freeway in California. And then $6 million to wipe out graffiti in New York. And $4 million for the National Packard Museum in Ohio. Overall, according to tax watchdogs, the bill's pork totaled more than $24 billion, far more than the $2.4 billion Pombo's committee is trying to scrape up.
While this legislation is far from being a done deal, it's definitely something to watch. I can't wait to hear what congressional representatives from the affected states have to say.