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Interior Secretary Jewell Calls On Congress To Step Up For Conservation...Or President Obama Will


In an address last week to the National Press Club, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell called on Congress to become more conservation-minded.

Washington politics are infuriating, disappointing, enlightening, and entertaining. They rarely are dull. That is obvious based on what has transpired since October 1, when the federal government ran out of money.

* We saw a 16-day closure of the National Park System initially spurred by House Republicans...who then castigated National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis for how the parks were shuttered.

* We received a 208-page report from U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma, that blamed the current state of the park system largely on those in Congress, but also on Park Service management.

* Most recently, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell called on Congress to support President Obama's broad conservation agenda...or the president will use his executive powers to move forward on parts of it.

In a speech last week before the National Press Club, the Interior secretary pointed to the value of public lands when it comes to climate change, clean air and water, and local economies. She talked about preserving these lands for generations yet to be born, of the need to "think about what conservation legacy we will leave for the next 50 years, for the next 100 years."

In short, she urged Congress to put up or shut up.

"The real test of whether you support conservation is not what you say in a press conference when the cameras are rolling, but whether you fight for it in the budget conference," Secretary Jewell told those at the Press Club gathering.

Some figurative fighting began last week almost immediately after Sen. Coburn issued his report, Parked! How Congress' Misplaced Priorities Are Trashing Our National Treasures, sections of which questioned the appropriateness of some units of the park system, such as Isle Royale National Park in Michigan. That immediately spurred bipartisan backlash from that state's congressional delegation, which pointed to the park not only as a breathtaking landscape but a key economic timber for area communities.

Which brings us back to Secretary Jewell's speech, which drew praise from the National Parks Conservation Association and the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, two groups that were critical of Sen. Coburn's take on the parks.

“With less than three years before the centennial of our National Park System, we agree with Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell that Congress should adopt a rational budget that recognizes the value of national parks, conservation and their economic contribution to communities nationwide," said Theresa Pierno, NPCA's acting president. "We also agree that there is a need to improve the balance between conservation and energy development on our public lands and to continue to protect important new natural and cultural areas as national monuments.

“Secretary Jewell’s strong statements on the value of conservation to our nation and to our future are welcome, and should be heeded. The Secretary was correct that, in the wake of the federal government shutdown, the real test of congressional support for national parks, park visitors, and local park economies will be the outcome of the budget conference now occurring between the House and Senate," Ms. Pierno went on. "The administration’s response to that conference and the president’s budget proposal for FY 2015 will also be tests. The National Parks Conservation Association calls on Congress to end the mindless sequester cuts and restore critically needed investments in our national parks and public lands. We also call on the administration to propose a budget for FY 2015 that takes meaningful, bold steps to restore and renew our national parks and ready them for their second century."

Coalition officials issued a short, but definitive, statement endorsing the secretary's speech: "CNPSR fully endorses the programs she outlined and her eloquent defense of the nation's national parks, public lands and the overall work of the Department of the Interior. Secretary Jewell is thinking big and that is befitting for the Department Head that stewards the vast majority of the nation's public lands."

While leading Republicans in Congress likely will give little merit to the Interior secretary's speech, they might focus on her mention that President Obama "is ready and willing to step up where Congress falls short" when it comes to conserving public lands as wilderness, wild and scenic rivers, units of the National Park System, or in some other protected form.

To buttress that point, Secretary Jewell said that "(I)n the coming weeks and months, I will be meeting with communities and evaluating opportunities where action can ensure that our nation’s stories and landscapes are honored, celebrated and preserved for the generations to come."

Her road trip likely will draw ire from U.S. Reps. Doc Hastings, R-Washington, and Rob Bishop, R-Utah, who in particular have been highly vocal in the past with their opposition to the president wielding his executive power to create, for example, national monuments.

The ongoing partisan rancor, which has led to congressional grandstanding, poses a great danger to the country's conservation movement if it's allowed to overwhelm positive steps that are being made.

Among currently pending legislation that would further conservation across the country are:

* H.R. 139, the Udall-Eisenhower Arctic Wilderness Act that would preserve the Arctic coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska, as wilderness.

* H.R. 145, the Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act that would create more than 333,000 acres of wilderness in Idaho.

* S. 1294, the Tennessee Wilderness Act, which would create more than 19,550 acres of wilderness in Tennessee

Unfortunately, these measures' chances of passage are gauged by as being slim or none.

Here's hoping that Congress shows some rare statesmanship in guiding the affairs of the country.


More of 'the Chicago way' I guess. Threats won't solve the NPS's funding problems and Congress isn't likely to end the (President's recommended) sequester cuts for the NPS. Designation of additional units by the President will only require stretching of the NPS budget through more and more units. Doesn't seem like much of a solution to me.

I agree, MikeG. We can tax Americans until only the elite can visit the national parks or we can take care of what we have and reduce the size of govt. and maintain a reasonable budget for our federal govt. so that all may continue to enjoy them.

Some seem to forget, or overlook, that the Republicans offered to fund everything except the ACA and the Democrats refused and would not negotiate.

I love the national parks and it's been my lifelong dream to be able to visit them but if we run America into bankruptcy the what good will they be to us?

I think the point needs to be made that neither the "Chicago way," as Mike puts it, or the Tea Party way, as others might, need to be followed, or should be followed. Rather, the politicians need to put aside their petty partisanship, sit down, and do a better job managing the country's affairs.

As has been pointed out in other articles, the National Park Service's budget is 1/15th of 1 percent of the federal budget. Investing in the parks, or conserving public lands, is not bankrupting this country. There is plenty of pork in the federal budget that could be trimmed to enable us to live within our means.

Unfortunately, it seems politics of all colors is preventing those badly needed substantive discussions.

You nailed it, Kurt. Especially in the line: "There is plenty of pork in the federal budget that could be trimmed to enable us to live within our means."

Well then, let's cut some if it Lee...

Kurt, I agree that the Parks budget is peanuts in the big view. Because it's peanuts doesn't mean it should be ignored. The Interior Secretary's comments as reported are simply extortion. Paraphrased: Give us more money or the President will use executive authority... but of course he can't simply decree more money... He can just create more obligations..

In the Washington Post today there is a story on the money the government pays to dead people because it can't manage it's various disbursements.

How 'bout we work on something we can probably all agree, like stopping payments to dead people, instead of continuing to dig our hole deeper. Maybe the President could work on that for a while.... It could divert attention from this month's "debacle" as the HHS secretary terms it...When was the last time anybody government addressed the waste in government?

Once they stop paying dead people, I'd be ok with giving all that money to parks....though I'd rather simply see it not expended at all.

Mike, I think there are lots of places to cut spending. Sen. Coburn has pointed to some incredible waste over the years.

As for the NPS, I'd support an independent outside audit of the agency from top to bottom. That will either point out where savings could be had, or support those who say the agency is underfunded. But I don't support cutting for cutting's sake.

What is uninterupted is the disconnect between modern environmentalists and the economic health (other than their own) of the country. When I see the least bit concern for the 92 million US citizens that are not working and the country as a whole, I might have a little more concern with NPS budgeting. Something more than expanding Food Stamp rolls, and drastic economic and social decline. Need a paradigm change, I believe.

or the Tea Party way

I would be interested in what you think the "Tea Party way" is. As Inigo Montoya said- "I do not think it means what you think it means."

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