Why would anyone connect 3 tourists trapped 740 feet underground in New Mexico with a natural gas pipeline that is planned to run for almost 100 miles alongside the Appalachian Trail?
Well, because of a bi-partisan Congressional push for an idea launched by President Donald Trump to link in law revenues obtained from new leases to drill for oil or gas on
Federal lands, with maintenance or expansion of infrastructure at the National Parks on other Federal lands.
What a surprise that President Trump and today’s Congressional leaders should present such a monumental effort to make three wrongs add up to a right policy.
The wrongs: 1) doesn’t it seem wrong that our government should be encouraging more production of climate-changing oil and gas when the present market is already very well-supplied and future markets are expected to shift towards much more eco-friendly wind and solar power?
And with that question still on the table, 2) – isn’t it wrong for our government to permanently scar some of America’s most precious natural or cultural landscapes just to add to Earth’s burden of methane and CO2?
The third wrong is less questionable and even easier to see. The Department of the Interior has run up a backlog of $11.6 billion worth of neglected maintenance on the roads and guard rails, the visitors’ centers and hikers’ trails of our National Parks. This disgrace extends as well to our less highly marketed National Monuments, National Forests, and other Federal landholdings.
Righting that last wrong is simple: just appropriate sufficient funds from the Federal Treasury. The years-long policy of underfunding infrastructure not only squanders, it actually degrades our natural resources and betrays the interest of the public in preserving and visiting them.
Congress and the Interior Department can do the right thing is a heartbeat, without any specifically designated source of revenue. That’s just how they fund most of government.
So, for its declared purpose: saving America’s National Parks, the Trump/Congress bill is utterly unnecessary.
Except, of course, as a way of implying that the only way to save our hostage parks is by letting extraction-industrial predators buy easier access to currently protected areas.
Does this idea reek? Here’s a hint. Backers of the legislation rush to tell you what it doesn’t say. “Nothing in the legislation,” says P Daniel Smith, President Trump’s new deputy director of the National Park Service, “authorizes new energy development. Nor,” he adds, “is there a proposal to increase energy production in national parks.”
Smith, by the way, was promoted to his new job despite having been caught authorizing the owner of the Washington Redskins illegally to cut down 135 trees along the historic C&O Canal so he had a better view from his mansion to the Potomac River.
Both of Deputy Director Smith’s statements are true, and truly misleading, as is this reassurance from one of the bills liberal Democrat backers, New Mexico Senator Martin Heinrich’s office: “this bill does nothing to change where, when or how energy development occurs.”
Of course the bill authorizes nothing — but it does incentive future Federal authorization of energy projects in places as unique as Chaco Canyon, and Grand Teton, Everglades, and Mammoth Cave national parks.
As if Ryan Zinke needed further incentives to hand over Federal lands for private development! He’s already speeding up that process. I wonder what it would take to incentivize Zinke to simply do his main job, to preserve and protect his department’s most precious public properties?
Elizabeth Miller is an independent journalist specializing in environmental issues and outdoor sports. Her reporting appears in the Santa Fe Reporter, Backpacker and The Guardian USA.