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How Will the Next Administration Deal With the Environment?


With the upcoming change in the country's political leadership, is the sun setting or rising on the National Park System? Photo of sunrise from Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park by photo by Atutu via flickr.

After eight years of highly questionable management of public lands by the Bush administration, the next administration will face myriad environmental issues when it takes office in January.

But how will it respond? Between the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts and the shambles of the domestic economy, it doesn't seem as if there's much capital -- political or financial -- to be spent on environmental issues in general or the national parks specifically.

Looking back, the Bush administration has exacted a heavy toll from the public landscape. While promising during his first campaign to wipe out the National Park Service's ever-burgeoning maintenance backlog, which in 2000 was pegged about about $4.5 billion, President Bush failed to make hardly any inroads on that front. The result is that the backlog now is guesstimated at somewhere in the $9 billion range.

The Bush administration also did away with the popular National Parks Pass, a $50 gem that got you into any and all of the national park units as many times as you could squeeze into a calendar year. It also seemed to place a greater value on volunteers in the parks than full-time park rangers.

More recently, the administration is in the process of rewriting gun regulations in the parks, moving beyond the general allowance of firearms as long as they're dismantled and stored out of reach to permitting concealed weapons permit holders to pack their sidearm 24 hours a day.

This administration also has been questionably lax on air quality regulations, moving to rewrite the rule book in a fashion that would lead to greater air pollution at a time when more and more national parks are reporting air quality problems.

And, as the Traveler noted recently, under this administration the U.S. Bureau of Land Management has been kowtowing to oil and gas interests as well as the off-road vehicle lobby. And then, of course, there's the long-running snowmobile drama in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks that refuses to go quietly away.

While Dirk Kempthorne's arrival at the head of the Interior Department was an upgrade over Gale Norton, his legacy will not necessarily be sparkling in all corners. After all, under his direction the BLM moved recently to rescind the rule that allows Congress to direct Interior officials to withdraw public lands acreage that could be in danger of degradation. Interior also has a poor record on the Endangered Species Act; recent directives could seriously jeopardize future decisions involving species at risk.

And don't forget how the administration has been handling the recovery of the gray wolf in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, moving to remove ESA protections from the species only to restore them after a federal judge questioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's logic.

One could go on and on. But we need to turn the page on this administration and look ahead to the next one, whether it be led by Barack Obama or John McCain. As we've noted in the past, either one would be a substantial upgrade over President Bush when it comes to environmental issues and, in particular, concern for the national parks.

Still, one needs to question how much desire, and how effective, the two would be when it comes to protecting the environment. While Sen. McCain has professed his love for national parks and being environmentally conscientious, he has most recently come out strongly in favor of off-shore drilling. Sen. Obama also has endorsed off-shore drilling, although with caveats. Beyond that, he certainly hasn't jumped on the "drill, baby, drill" bandwagon as much as the McCain-Palin ticket has.

And, according to a recent story in the San Francisco Chronicle, Sen. McCain's talk is somewhat on the cheap side.

McCain was an early advocate of adopting measures to address global warming and says he favors laws to protect parks, oceans and air and water. His lifetime record in Congress shows that he voted three out of four times against legislation described as pro-environment by conservation organizations.

The groups are voicing concern that McCain has praised U.S. Supreme Court Justices Samuel Alito and John Roberts as model jurists. The two have consistently ruled in favor of limiting regulation of business, including cases under environmental law.

Beyond the candidates' pledges and voting records, how much has the political landscape changed? Will the winner of next month's election hold steadfast to their past comments that the parks need better funding and that the Centennial Initiative is a good idea? Already the pundits are saying the economic realities of today portend ominous times when it comes to addressing environmental needs.

Now, the National Parks Conservation Association has been running a public awareness campaign that includes a petition Americans can sign urging the next president and the incoming Congress to provide greater federal funding and protections for the National Park System. The campaign includes radio ads featuring actors Amy Madigan and Sam Waterston and print ads featuring Petrified Forest National Park and the National Mall as examples of national parks nationwide in need of greater funding.

But, in these difficult economic times, is the American public fully invested in supporting such a campaign?

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The Presidential Candidates Face-Off

A recent issue of Audubon magazine, probably the current one, has an excellent article on the candidates' positions on environmental issues, including the national parks. In this interview article, Obama and McCain respond to the same ten questions about environmental issues and alternatives. I'd love to report the gist of it, but I no longer have my copy of the magazine. Perhaps a Traveler reader could help?

To clarify a few points:
1) do we really want it to be too easy or too fast to change something like a longstanding policy of the US Government?
Yes, absolutely. The inference is that a long standing policy of our government equates to it being a good policy. Nothing could be further from the truth.
EX: we have a "long standing" national policy of backing the Saudi regime, who are as notoriously corrupt as our own ruling body, and whose people are (the majority anyway, as shown in a multitude of internal Saudi polls) as blatantly anti-American as any people on the planet, but our "look the other way and take the oil" policy is pathetic. We agreed to fund and our contractors were the majority interest in assembling the infrastructure by which the Saudi oil reserved could be harnessed and in return we were promised that our nation would reap the "benefit" of the largest oil producing nation in the world acting with our "national interests" in mind as OPEC was conceived and became the controlling body of the world oil network. In the days since, instead of working towards energy independence and cutting the Middle Eastern monetary giant off at the knees, we continue to pursue "national interests" throughout the Arabian Peninsula. Great policy, especially in light of the events of the past decade or so, don't you think?

2) Depending on how thoughtful and skillful the public support or opposition for a certain issue is, it IS possible to influence both the White House and the Congress. They are instruments, and can be played.
I guess that American public support and indignation on issues such as affordable health care, equalization of the tax structure, corporate welfare, a legal system that administers "liberty and justice for ALL", not just the lower and middle classes, education, social and national security, etc. etc. etc. is just not "thoughtful and skillful" enough to overcome the blockades that are the special interest lobbyists in Washington. A majority of the root of the evil that is capitalism is that only those who can AFFORD to support change can actually enact change. That simple rule effectively eliminates the majority of the population in this country ever experiencing the manner of "change" we seek. Using your criterion, I guess that makes most of us, by definition, unskilled, impatient and stupid. I profess to being unskilled in politics, and I hold career politicians in the highest levels of contempt for their inability to be accountable for the current status of our nation. I would, effective today, remove ALL career politicians from office to be replaced with skilled negotiators, people who can effectively research the needs of their constituents and work towards the most effective compromise on those issues, WITHOUT succumbing to the pork and influence that special interests demand.

3) Civilizations fall because the governed no longer care about supporting that civilization.
The fall of many empires over the history of mankind is largely attributable to two major factors: a) and inability to recognize the point whereby the empire could no longer effectively be "managed and controlled", and b) taking those from the lowest fiscal strata for granted and viewing their wants, needs and desires as socially inferior, or unworthy of serious consideration. Of the "great empires" of the past 4000 years, only the British of the 17th / 18th centuries began the process of pulling back the "reigns" before the entire system collapsed into chaos and ruin, and was the only great world power to not have the ruling family ousted from power by the people. Babylonia, Syria, Persia, Egypt, Greece, Rome, Mongolia, China, France, Spain, the Aztecs, Russia (shall I continue?) all met their end shortly after ascending to the pinnacle of international power. Our internal mechanisms more closely parallel those exhibited by Rome, France, Spain and the Aztec models. All were mighty military powers, far beyond the walls of the homeland. All exhibited great wealth that was, by and large, the profits of raping conquered nations. All were lead by wealthy ruling elite who did their level best to distance themselves from the "commoners" who supported and actually built the empires through their own physical toils, spilling their own blood when necessary. ALL eventually rose up in revolt against the ruling powers and deposed them, mainly through execution of the heads of state and their families. Taking those ruled for granted and neglecting their wants, needs and desires, or even more tragically, imposing YOUR wants, needs and desires on them, is the fatal mistake that sets the dominos in motion. The outcome is inevitable, chronology and geography be damned. This has nothing to do with lacking in desire to support the civilization, but rather, lacking the desire to support the governmental body, which is a separate issue completely. Pardon my metaphor...... but we, as a people, don't want the business closed. We just demand management that has the interests of the workers at hearts, not solely or exclusively the interests of accountants and majority shareholders. If, we're suffering, they should be as well.

4) Obama the Inexperienced, United States Senator for barely 1 1/2 terms, and currently only the Democratic Flavor of the Month because nationally, people hate the "Hillary and BillyBob the Cigar Manipulator Show" even more than they hate his lack of references and credibility, which places him on almost dead equal footing with Sarah the Governor of a State Most Schoolkids Can't Find on a Map of the United States, is too closely joined at the hip with both convicted corrupt politicians and convicted felons for me to be too comfortable with his ability to effectively govern without maintaining a "business as usual" methodology. His rhetoric rings hollow to these ears, as does that of his contemporaries and predecessors. It makes one wonder if killing for our national system of government was ever the right thing to do. I strongly encourage your ballot goes to Ron Paul, Ralph Nader, or Larry the Cucumber as opposed to supporting another administrative nightmare that will be the 2008 President of the United States. Will any of my alternative candidates win, or even stand a chance? Please......but at least you can look everyone in the face and claim that you, thankfully, did NOT support another 4+ years of ineffective American governmental lackluster leadership, from EITHER party.

Which really puts the immediate needs and overall future of our National Park Service in quite the conundrum, no?

Why did the SF Chronicle not report on Obama's voting record? Could it be that he doesn't have one? If so, I guess you can only HOPE for the best - like on so many other issues.

Anyone who is mentioned in the same breath as Mr. Pombo should scare the bejeebies out of people who have even a cursory interest in the parks.

Info on Mr. Allard:
Latest LCV Score: 18%
In 1996, he ran against Gale Norton (yes, THAT Gale Norton) in the senatorial primary. He won the nomination.
Wikipedia says: "In April 2006, Allard was named by Time as one of "America's 5 Worst Senators." The magazine called him "The Invisible Man" and said he was one of the "least influential Senators" because he "almost never plays a role in major legislation" and "rarely speaks on the floor or holds press conferences to push his ideas" despite his ten years in the Senate and his presence as a majority party member on two key committees.[2] The Rocky Mountain News retorted that Time made the "wrong call" and that Allard was a "hard-working advocate for Colorado interests."[3] The Colorado Springs Gazette claimed the article was "soft, subjective, snide, impressionistic slop — further proof of the low to which this once-serious publication has sunk....Allard was a co-sponsor of the James Peak Wilderness Bill, which created a 14,000-acre (57 km2) preserve around James Peak, and added 3,000 acres (12 km2) to the Indian Peak Protection Area. Allard also sponsored legislation which created Colorado's 85,000-acre (340 km2) Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. Allard is also chairman and founder of the Senate Renewable Energy and Efficiency Caucus[8] In 2006, the environmental group Republicans for Environmental Protection[9] praised Allard for his support of legislation to make the Army Corps of Engineers more accountable for its projects' environmental and economic impact, but censured him for supporting oil drilling both offshore and in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.[10]"

Getting back to the topic of how the next administration will treat national parks, I suspect that either candidate will do better than the hopeless Bush administration has done. That said, I am more inclined to think that parks would fare better under an Obama admiinistration than one headed by McCain. For instance, I read an article several days ago that suggested that Steve Pearce, a NM congressman running against Tom Udall for Pete Domenici's seat, would be a possible choice for the Secretary of the Interior under Senator McCain. That thought strikes fear into the hearts of most park supporters as Pearce was Richard Pombo's choice to head the parks subcommittee when the Republicans controlled the Congress. He served without distinction and some would say that "serving without distinction" is not harsh enough. Other names mentioned in the article are Wayne Allard of Colorado and retaining Kempthorne. None of these names arouses a great deal of enthusiasm in me.

Rick Smith

My "simplistic take" was intentionally short and addressed what I see as the economic fundamentals behind the collapse of the (of course Western) Roman Empire and are based on the plethora of academic explanations available, including a particularly apt economic explanation by Ludwig von Mises.

As for my predictions for the collapse of our overseas empire and the fiat money system, I don't know when it will happen, but the answer lies in Beamis' question: "How much longer can the government spend (borrow) $10 billion a month to wage needless war and still survive as a going concern?" And I'll add: "How much longer can the government spend (borrow) trillions a year to maintain 700 bases in 120 countries?"

I'm not prophesying the doom of civilization or of America; I'm saying our empire and fiat money system are both unsustainable and will collapse, just like all other empires that debased their currencies to support their world empire.

You can cast me as a doomsayer all you want but I'll stick to this one pertinent question: How much longer can the government spend (borrow) $10 billion a month to wage needless war and still survive as a going concern?

We won't even go into the trillions for corporate welfare........

Not much left for the parks, is there?

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