A quartet of senators from Western states are pushing U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman to allow a hearing on their proposal to reduce the cost of visiting national parks and other public lands.
So far Sen. Bingaman, the New Mexico Democrat who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, hasn't put the Fee Repeal and Expanded Access Act proposal on the committee's agenda.
That refusal prompted U.S. Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Testor of Montana and Mike Crapo and Jim Risch of Idaho to recently send Sen. Bingaman a letter asking him to schedule a hearing on their proposal.
As drafted, the legislation (SB 868) would repeal most provisions of the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act and restore the language of the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act of 1965 regarding recreation fees. One element of SB 868 would do away with the $80 America the Beautiful Public Lands Pass and return the $50 National Parks Pass.
The drive to rollback, if not completely remove, fees allowed under the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act stem from the belief that the public shouldn't have to pay to access public lands.
According to the Western Slope No Fee Coalition, which long has lobbied to do away with entrance fees to Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands, the proposed legislation would:
* For all agencies, fees will still be allowed at campgrounds, swimming sites and boat launches that have a defined minimum level of development, and for rental of cabins and lookouts.
* Entrance Fees will be allowed for NPS units and NPS will retain fee revenue within the agency with 80% to be spent at the site where collected. NPS will no longer charge additional fees for backcountry access or interpretive programs when an entrance fee has been paid.
* Increases to NPS Entrance Fees will be required to be submitted to Congress 60 days before taking effect.
* The $80 America the Beautiful Pass will be eliminated, and the $50 National Parks Pass and Golden Eagle Pass will be reinstated.
* Forest Service and BLM will be prohibited, as they were under the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act, from charging fees, either singly or in any combination, for drinking water, wayside exhibits, roads, overlook sites, visitor centers, scenic drives, toilet facilities, or solely for the use of picnic tables.
* Forest Service and BLM fee revenue will be paid, less 15% for administrative costs, to the Treasury for appropriation by Congress. This will eliminate the current system where those agencies keep all the money they can raise, which has resulted in fees being charged for parking, scenic overlooks, picnic tables, driving scenic roads, toilets, and many other basic services that should be supported with existing appropriated budgets.
The Fee Repeal and Expanded Access Act will restore language that worked well for over 30 years. It will preserve the ability of the public lands agencies to charge reasonable fees for specialized facilities and for National Park entrance. It will restore free use of basic facilities such as picnic tables and toilets and free general access to scenic trails, roads, and overlooks. It will restore Congressional oversight of the expenditure of fee revenues.
The Fee Repeal and Expanded Access Act of 2009 was introduced in the 111th Congress by Senator Max Baucus, Senator Mike Crapo, and Senator Jon Tester as bill number S.868. It has been assigned to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. The more co-sponsors it garners, the better the chance of passage. Please contact YOUR Senators through their web forms at www.Senate.gov and ask them to join Senator Baucus in supporting S.868 to repeal the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act and restore public access to public lands.