Chairman of House Committee Proposes Selling Off National Parks to Rase Money

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Proposals by the Chair of the House Resources Committee has National Park Service (NPS) oversight and history watchdog groups up in arms. In a 260-page draft of a budget reconciliation bill (a tool that is used by Congress to meet budget goals), committee chair Richard Pombo (R-CA) has advanced several controversial provisions aimed to help address the current governmental fiscal crisis.

Among his ideas that purportedly are designed to save the government $2.4 billion is a proposal to sell no fewer than 15 national parks, including a number of historical sites: the Eugene O’Neill National Historical Site in Danville, California; the Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial in Pennsylvania; the Fort Bowie National Historic Site, Arizona; the Mary McLeod Bethune Council House, Washington D.C.; and the Thomas Stone National Historic Site, Maryland, as well as a number of smaller, less visited natural areas most of which are located in Alaska, including the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve; the Lake Clark National Park and Preserve; and the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve. If all the parks were sold off as Pombo wants, the total land holdings of the NPS would be reduced by 23 percent thus saving the government billions over a period of years.

In addition to the park closures, Pombo also seeks to require that the NPS raise $20 million through commercial sponsorships and by granting naming rights for certain national parks facilities. His plan would permit commercial advertisements on national park vehicles and advertising would be mandated to appear in official park service maps and guidebooks; billboards would be placed on in-park buses, trams, and vans.

While Pombo is silent about the proposals, his House Resources Committee spokesperson states that the Congressman “isn’t seriously thinking” about putting national parks on the auction block, that the list of parks was drawn up for the Congressional Budget Office merely as a hypothetical situation. Nevertheless, NPS watchdog organizations have expressed outrage over the proposals and are taking them (especially the commercialization plans) seriously. Jim DiPreso, communications director for the grassroots organization Republicans for Environmental Protection ( maintains “Pombo’s extremism, if turned into law, would turn our treasured national park system into a tawdry carnival of advertising and fast-buck commercialism, squandering a priceless inheritance.”

Most likely, the underlying purpose of Pombo’s proposals is something of a political ploy to call attention to budget alternatives that could be implemented to cover the perceived revenue shortfall if Congress fails to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska for oil and gas drilling as Pombo wants. If Pombo is to be taken at his word -- that his legislation is merely a “conversation starter”-- then it certainly has had the desired effect. But if the Congressman is offering legislation as a “joke” (as first claimed by his spokesperson) or merely seeking to taunt environmentalists as others first thought, it would seem to be a new low for a member of Congress, let alone a powerful committee chair.

One final note…former Representative Pete McClosky, a modern day Bullmoose Republican if there was ever one and co-author of the Endangered Species Act that enviros claim Pombo is also “trying to gut,” has announced that he will challenge the sitting Congressman in 2006 if another credible primary challenger does not emerge. According to McClosky, “The Republican values that I grew up with, Pombo is not espousing.” Pombo faces several allegations of ethics violations including accusations that in the last election he spent about a quarter of his campaign funds to pay family members. House Democrats believe Pombo’s seat in California’s 11th District may be up for grabs in the 2006 mid-term elections.

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