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.

Comments

I am arguing on behalf of the American economic system and see no reason profits of the oil companies should be any different. There is nothing obscene about the American economic system nor oil profits. In fact, the largest oil company - Exxon\Mobil had an average return on investment in 2010 and well below average in 2009.

We should all just trust corporation to save us all...less regulation = more jobs and more money for all...(just kidding)

Dear Ryan,Leave out the emotion (gets us in trouble on this). A healthy skepticism for corporations, government and your favorite environmental group is not a bad thing:). There's some reality in there somewhere but not usually where you might expect to find it (unless you prefer your own:). Churchill was right, all you grown ups:).

Kurt,
You know I respect your opinions and appreciate your point of view.
I hope you respect my fear of the overall agenda of certain people concerning access at Cape Hatteras. This is just the beginning. It will not stop here. Look at the History.
As concerns this article, I was trying to make the point that the money that has been spent and is proposed to be spent at Cape Hatteras surely could have and could be better spent. With the current financial situation facing our NPS, I thought this was relevent. I know the dollar amount is small but, I'm from the old school, take care of the pennys and the dollars will take care of themselves.
I see the waste which, as I see it, is simply do to certain people being excessive in their ideas of how the Seashore should be run.
And I will go back to my argument that Less quoting of statistics and best available science and more common sense would serve well. This is quite evident while reading all the comments to this article.
Just my opinion.

Best to you,
Ron

Nice post, Ron. Always reasonable and respectful.Common sense? How refreshing a concept. Must be something "old school" :). Something that could and should be resurrected or....suffer the consequences. Broad brush but applicable (I believe).

Ahhh, but one man's common sense often is another's nonsense...;-)

ecbuck wrote,

"Whether there are larger influences is immaterial. Taxes are an influence and will impact the price of oil. It may not be the largest influence but it has an influence just like every other cost the oil companies incure."

Ugh. Take another look at the The NY Times article above or my many highlights of the key passges. The NYT paraphrases the final part of the Congressional Research Service report, which discusses how discontinuing the subsidies would have a negligible effect on oil prices—see the part about “relative magnitudes” (pp. 3-4). (i.e. The effect on oil prices would be of such small magnitude relative to the other macroeconomic forces at work that it could not be separated (i.e. identified).) So, to say that larger influences is "immaterial" to the price of oil is clearly contradicted by the evidence, unless of course you want to ignore what the report says. But you're right to the extent that there would be an "effect," albeit a neglible one. So, to go back to the original point of the conversation: I'd be willing to give up subsisides to the oil industry in order to better fund our national parks, and based on the CRS report (among others), if this were to happen, I wouldn't be forced to "walk to my favorite national park."

I don't know how this thread ended up as an apology for Big Oil but judging by the spelling abilities and logic of the corporate defenders I wouldn't believe a word they write. (Where's the evidence for "$300 billion in investments by Exxon"?) I suppose a benefit to parks from the petroleum industry would be financing from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. But of course full funding for land acquisition will never happen while Congress is owned lock, stock and barrel by the plutocracy and their (the plutocrats') fundamentally flawed hangers-on.

It seemed to me that ecbuck was supporting the American economic system, that includes the oil companies and everyone else drawing a paycheck in this country. Maybe it would be an appropriate article for this site to post the financial records (including the golden handshakes) of (at least) the major environmental organization and NPS. I know people in the environmental community that are as motivated by profit as anyone, including the oil companies. A great gig, they tell me (sorry Mr. Kellett:).Being a perfect speller isn't all it's cracked up to be. Common sense, yes, a refreshing concept. Do they teach that in schools, lol?

"First of all, let the record show that President Obama is right and the GOP is wrong about these tax breaks. They make the economy less--not more--efficient and do nothing to reduce prices at the pump."--Jerry Taylor and Peter Van Doren, senior fellows at the Cato Institute. Forbes 5/3/11. http://www.forbes.com/2011/05/02/eliminate-oil-subsidies.html

"The oil and gas industries argue that their tax breaks encourage them to locate and extract more oil and gas, allowing the industry to increase supply and thus keep energy prices down below the level they would otherwise reach. But whatever one thinks of this argument, it totally falls apart when oil is selling at over $100 a barrel. By any relevent measure, oil and gas companies are wildly profitable, and have huge incentives to find and sell more oil. Repealing the tax subsidies that they enjoy will not change this."--Jeff Hooke and Steve Wamhoffe, Citizens for Tax Justice, 4/29/11. http://www.ctj.org/pdf/energy20110429.pdf

" So, to say that larger influences is "immaterial" to the price of oil is clearly contradicted by the evidence,"

Once again you have twisted someone's words. I never said that larger influences were immaterial. I said their existence was immaterial to whether taxes had an influence.

"unless of course you want to ignore what the report says"
I haven't ignored the report but I have pointed out its flaw. The report only considered the impact on supply and did not consider what a corporation might do to make up for its higher costs.

"(Where's the evidence for "$300 billion in investments by Exxon"?)"
On their balance sheet.

Kurt,
I don't think "common sense" has much if anything to do with personal theories or agendas. Example: If your boat is sinking you fix the hole and bale, NOT throw the buckets of water in someone else's boat. Lot's of nonsense around with none of it "common," I believe.

Westerner, the point, of course, is how one approaches an issue. And in that regard I do think personal theories or agendas can influence whether you see something as being based in common sense, or is rather nonsensical.
I wasn't implying above that one side or the other in the Cape Hatteras matter, or in the oil company scenario, is lacking common sense. Only that one's personal point of view can lead them to believe that their argument and underlying evidence is built entirely of common sense and therefore sound, while opposing views are nonsense.
Example: I think it's nonsense that folks hide their comments in anonymity, while those folks might have a common sense reason for doing so;-)

The recent posts pretty much prove what I mean by common sense. Facts are facts unless you're basing your (facts) on the emotional whims, spelling errors and youthful naivete. Of course when that becomes a career or cause celeb that's something else. You get to portray facts or ignore them any which way. Demonize, deceive, lie, personal destruction, fraud and other illegal activity. So, character does matter and the spanking at an early age that someone referred to on the site is something that's terribly absent in correcting bad behavior. :) Interesting postings you get here, Kurt.

Let's see if I have this right: If Exxon pays 10% corporate income tax on its profits and the tax is raised to 15% then Exxon will automatically raise its prices to reflect this higher tax; therefore the consumer pays more at the pump and has less to spend at Walmart. In this case, since gasoline is a largely inelastic commodity, the free market fundamentalist point of view herein may be in part correct. But supposing gasoline were a more elastic commodity then higher prices would mean proportionately lower sales and (presumably) lower net profits for Exxon. Then Exxon must choose how to spend its (still enormous) profits. I strongly suspect that CEO bonuses, dividends, lobbyists and think tanks would be among the last items cut. (How about if we tax dividends at the same rate as regular income?--that would help lessen the deficit and (in a more perfect union) provide more money for parks.)

Dear apologists for oil companies:

How many legs does a dog have, if you count it's tail as a leg?

Four. Counting a tail as a leg doesn't make it a leg.

Sorry. I don't believe in either the benevolence or victimhood of an oil company. I continue to opine that arguing on their behalf on a website devoted to preserving our national heritege and wilderness is obscene.

Rick B. for Presdient! Well said.

Mr. B
Not apologists at all but simple economic points. Might as well be corn flakes. Might be smart to get some skin in the game, buy oil stocks like smart investors across the country and donate those obscene profits to NPS so they can rid the parks of those nasty inholdings. I know they aren't the oil companies but does it matter? I imagine Iranian oil interests approve of your attitude.
Wonder if you are a lobbyist for Iranian oil interests. Drill baby drill:).

ecbuck wrote,
"I never said that larger influences were immaterial. I said their existence was immaterial to whether taxes had an influence."

You're right. I misread your post. Of course, this doesn't change the results of the Congressional Research Service report, which confirms that discontinuing subsidies will have a negligible effect on prices at the pump.

Anon, thanks for posting examples of both libertarian and liberal claims, which the CRS confirms.

"Of course, this doesn't change the results of the Congressional Research Service report,"
Nor does it change the fact that the Congressional Report considered only the impact on supply and not potential reactions by the oil companies to recoup the higher taxes.
Once again I will list the profit history of the largest company - Exxon/Mobil - along with the amount of taxes and duties it paid each year.
Net Profit Taxes & Duties

2010 30.5 billon 89.2

2009 19.3 78.6

2008 45.2 116.2

2007 40.6 105.7

2006 39.5 100.7

2005 36.1 98.6

Please - explain to me how pay 2-4x your profits in taxes each year constitutes a "subsidy" If you want to attack true subsidies try the Solar industry or Ethanol.

Could you agree that much of the "reports" coming out of
Would you agree that much of the "reporting/reports" coming out of DC is political in nature, lol? I truly love the National Parks/Forests but not the deception that's such a part of the dialogue, like there's always a hidden agenda. Just come out and put it on the table for all to see, and decide (BROAD BRUSH)!

I think, ec, to be fair with your list you also have to list gross profit as well, otherwise some folks might get the impression the oil companies are losing money due to their tax bill, when that's not the case at all. For instance, in 2010 gross earnings for the year were $383.2 billion.

OK, lets just have an experiment and SHUT THE OIL COMPANIES DOWN and send them all to other countries where it seems to be the "preferred alternative." We could then examine the results (reality) and if that action contribute more or less money to the Parks.

ecbuck wrote,
"'Of course, this doesn't change the results of the Congressional Research Service report,'
Nor does it change the fact that the Congressional Report considered only the impact on supply and not potential reactions by the oil companies to recoup the higher taxes."

The CRS report explicitly addresses this in the second paragraph of the "Background" section and "frames" the subsequent analysis. Kurt posted a link to the CRS report above, which you (or anyone else) can review. You might also take a look at the libertarian and liberal perspectives Anon posted above, and which the CRS confirms. Both also address this pretty explicitly.

" think, ec, to be fair with your list you also have to list gross profit as well,"
I think you mean pretax profit/earnings not gross profit. Net profit is the bottom line so unless there is a minus sign, it isn't implying a loss.
Of course the key point here is that the oil companies send far more dollars to Washington and other governments than they do to their shareholders. On a net basis the companies are massive contributors at effective rates far above the average company or US citizen.

"For instance, in 2010 gross earnings for the year were $383.2 billion."
Gross earnings for the industry - not for one company. Are you implying that is a bad thing? If so, why?

ec,
I won't quibble over gross profit vs pretax profit, but as to your other point, that $383.2 billion figure is indeed for one company, Exxon Mobil, as that's what they listed on their fourth-quarter release under total revenues and other income.
And I'm not implying anything. I'm just trying to paint a clearer picture. As I noted above, someone glancing quickly at your "chart" might get the impression the oil companies are
losing money due to their tax bill, when that's not the case at all.
And as much fun as this has all been, I'm going to close this discussion, as it's really been whittled about as far as worthwhile for a site dedicated to national parks.