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Deaf, Dumb and Dumber

Why won't Congress listen to the American public when it comes to the country's parks?

By Christopher Weir

A NATIONWIDE SURVEY conducted by Colorado State University and the National Parks and Conservation Association found that 96 percent of respondents said they would be more likely to vote for a presidential candidate who is committed to parks; 75 percent said their legislator's record on national parks is an important consideration when they vote; and 88 percent said companies should reduce pollution levels to protect park air quality. What's wrong with this picture? Brian Huse of the National Parks and Conservation Association speaks out about the seeming political subversion of the public will.

Metro Santa Cruz: Are the riders that are being affixed to the omnibus parks bill honest, or are they a subterfuge for derailing the legislation?

Huse: You have to look at how Congress operates. Whenever there is a bill that has bipartisan support and appears to be moving along toward success ... it becomes a target for other bills that might otherwise be so controversial that they wouldn't have a chance. And so it becomes basically a gamble to attach as many controversial bills as possible. So, in this case, we had a bill that would have gone a long way toward protecting our parks and public lands, and it has just become bogged down with so much other legislation that it is now diametrically opposed to these protections.

How do legitimate budget concerns--from the standpoint of both the park system and the tax base in general--impact our national parks?

Take a look at the numbers. There's currently--and has been for years--an annual operating shortfall of $650 million. So after every year and two-thirds, that backlog goes up another billion. And if you look at what is being talked about for fiscal 1997--$1.13 billion for the National Park System--that's roughly .06 percent of the federal budget. So what this really comes down to is not the fact that there isn't the money to support our parks, but that there isn't the political will in Congress.

Of course, there's the argument that congressional priorities are merely a reflection of constituencies. The American public loves their parks, and they want Congress to do the right thing. But Congress does not in every case take a general pulse of America and do what America wants. It's far more complex than that. Consider that 85 percent of Americans feel it's more important to protect parks for future generations than for their own enjoyment. If you had a Congress that was truly listening to the American people, you would have full funding, every single year, for our parks, and no need to go to corporate America to support something we've decided our tax dollars ought to pay for because it's that important to our nation and its heritage.

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From the September 12-18, 1996 issue of Metro Santa Cruz

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