The Koch Brothers Declare War on National Parks and the EPA

July 7th, 2015 - by admin & Claire Moser / ThinkProgress & Reed Watson and Scott Wilson / New York Times Op-Ed – 2015-07-07 20:07:08

ACTION ALERT: Tell Republicans
‘Don’t Gut the Environmental Protection Agency’

The Koch Brothers are going all out to help Republicans win elections in 2016. Here’s what they want out of it: “We support the abolition of the Environmental Protection Agency.”

That’s pulled directly from David Koch’s platform back when he ran for Vice President. Little has changed 35 years later. The Kochs are among the biggest polluters in the United States. By dismantling critical environmental protections, they’ll pad their billions substantially. Thanks to Citizens United, they’re going to spend nearly $1 billion in 2016 to try and abolish the EPA for good.

Don’t let them pollute our planet. Sign Your Name:
Demand Republicans ignore the Kochs and protect the environment

Koch-Backed Group Calls For No More National Parks
Claire Moser, Guest Contributor / ThinkProgress

(July 3, 2015) — Just in time for the Fourth of July — when millions of people across the country will visit America’s national parks and other public lands — the Koch brothers are rolling out their latest campaign against these treasured places: pushing for no more national parks.

In an op-ed published in Tuesday’s New York Times [See Op-ed below – EAW], Reed Watson, the executive director at the Koch-backed Property and Environment Research Center (PERC), along with a research associate at the Center, call for no more national parks, citing the backlog in maintenance for existing parks.

“True conservation is taking care of the land and water you already have, not insatiably acquiring more and hoping it manages itself,” the op-ed reads. “Let’s maintain what we’ve already got, so we can protect it properly,” it concludes.

While the authors seem to push for “true conservation” from the federal government, in reality, PERC has a long history of advocating for the privatization of America’s national parks and other public lands, and has significant ties to the Koch brothers and fossil fuel industries.

PERC, which labels itself as “a property rights and environmental organization,” has received significant contributions from Koch-backed organizations, including from Donors Trust, which has been called the “dark-money ATM of the right.”

Additionally, Watson, the lead author of the op-ed and current PERC Executive Director, previously worked at the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, and in a 2009 op-ed criticized a number of bipartisan bills to protect wilderness, arguing that “land management agencies [should] turn a profit” by removing restrictions on timber and energy development.

In addition to arguing for no new national parks, PERC’s op-ed also calls for an end to one of America’s best parks programs, the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). LWCF is a budget-neutral program that uses funds from offshore oil and gas development fees to fund federal, state and local outdoor projects across the country.

The program has been used to support some of America’s most iconic national parks, including the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone, and has helped create tens of thousands of outdoor projects such as local parks and baseball diamonds in all 50 states.

Members of Congress from both parties have called for full funding and reauthorization of the LWCF before it expires permanently on September 30. However, PERC and a select few Republican leaders in Congress are instead advocating for diverting the funds to cover maintenance costs, despite continuing to cut the National Park Service’s budget.

PERC and its oil and gas allies have also ramped up involvement in an extreme right wing campaign to give control of America’s public lands to the states and sell them off to the highest bidder. In March, PERC released a study that claimed to provide economic evidence to support the transfer of national public lands to state control.

The study was widely cited in a series of nearly identical op-eds written by a front group for the oil and gas-backed public relations firm of Richard Berman, nicknamed “Dr. Evil” by consumer-protection and organizations he has targeted.

However, an analysis by the Center for Western Priorities (CWP) shows that PERC’s economic analysis is “flawed,” ignoring billions of dollars spent every year fighting wildfires and “fail[ing] to account for the multiple values provided by national public lands,” beyond drilling, mining, and logging.

The study’s “glaring flaws would suggest that the authors designed a study to specifically support the organization’s ideology, which prioritizes extractive industries, reduces public access through privatization, and ignores the benefits of balanced land management,” CWP wrote in April.

CWP also cites two recent studies in its analysis from economists in Utah and Idaho showing that states would not be able to afford to manage lands if they were transferred to state control. In addition to the serious economic concerns they raise for state budgets, these proposals to transfer America’s public lands to the states and sell them off to private interests are unpopular with Western voters, and most importantly, unconstitutional.

Despite these concerns, PERC and its oil and gas allies in Congress have continued to ramp up efforts to seize and sell off America’s public lands and push an overall “No More National Parks” campaign. While these highly partisan and divisive attacks on the environment have taken priority in Congress, the conservation efforts supported by both parties, such as the reauthorization of the LWCF, are at risk of being left behind. Congress will have less than 100 days to act and reauthorize LWCF when it returns from recess next week.

Let’s Fix Our National Parks, Not Add More
Reed Watson and Scott Wilson / New York Times Op-Ed

BOZEMAN, Mont. (June 30, 2015) — — In Yosemite National Park, officials need roughly $19 million to upgrade an aging sewer system to prevent spills like the one that leaked thousands of gallons of raw sewage into the Merced River 15 years ago. In Grand Canyon National Park, more than $100 million is needed to repair the water system and $44 million to fix the trail network for the park’s four million visitors a year.

Throughout the national park system, an enormous backlog of deferred maintenance is eroding the visitor experience and threatening the very resources that the National Park Service was created to protect. Earlier this year, the park service announced that the cost of deferred maintenance had reached $11.5 billion.

Included in the backlog: $5.6 billion for park roads, $1.8 billion for buildings, nearly $473 million for trails, $255 million for wastewater systems and $62 million for campgrounds.

Unfortunately, the park service is not alone. At last estimate, the maintenance backlog for its parent agency, the Interior Department, which also includes the Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management, was put at between $13.2 billion and $19.3 billion.

Despite this, in December President Obama effectively spread the maintenance budget even thinner by adding seven new parks totaling approximately 120,000 acres to the park system. The administration also supports reauthorizing the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which devotes up to $900 million annually from offshore oil and gas leases to federal land acquisitions and state recreational grants — but nothing explicitly for the maintenance of our federal lands.

Adding more land to the federal estate is irresponsible when the government is failing to maintain the parks, forests and grazing lands it currently owns. Rather than using the conservation fund to acquire more land, Congress should use the money to help address the deferred maintenance backlog.

True conservation is taking care of the land and water you already have, not insatiably acquiring more and hoping it manages itself.

Advocates for reauthorizing the conservation fund, including the Interior Department, point to broad public support for public land acquisition, particularly for private holdings within park boundaries and other ecologically sensitive parcels threatened by development. However, federal land agencies can acquire these priority parcels in a revenue-neutral manner by swapping them with other federal lands, leaving the land and water conservation money for critical maintenance and repairs.

Even if the fund is fully financed at $900 million annually, that money is not sufficient to address all the needed repairs on federal lands. For instance, the National Park Service estimated that it would need to spend $700 million annually just to prevent deferred maintenance from rising above the current $11.5 billion backlog. To complement land and water conservation funds, Congress should expand the authority of federal land agencies to charge user fees and allow the revenue to be used at the park, refuge, monument or forest that collected it.

User fees are based on the idea that those who use a resource should bear the cost of maintaining it. We all pay for federal lands through taxes, but we do not all use them at the same rate or have the same impact on the roads, trails and restrooms — many of which are now in disrepair. Fees, not taxes, are a more equitable means of financing maintenance.

Fees also provide important information about which sites are most popular and, consequently, which need the most maintenance. The customer is always right, as the saying goes, and user fees allow federal land managers to know what their customers want.

The Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act, which lets agencies collect user fees and retain at least 80 percent of the revenue at the collection location, is set to expire next year. Reauthorizing it is imperative, but it should be amended to allow 100 percent of the user fee to be retained on site. Likewise, price caps on user fees should be eliminated and the authority to collect entrance fees should be extended to the Bureau of Land Management and the Agriculture Department’s Forest Service.

Federal land managers know what is required to maintain their lands, as well as what visitors are willing to pay. These reforms would allow managers to charge fees that facilitate conservation without discouraging visitation.

The impending expiration of these two important laws provides Congress with the perfect opportunity to reform how we pay for conservation in this country.

First, Congress should stop acquiring more land and use the Land and Water Conservation Fund to help pay down the deferred maintenance backlog. Second, Congress should renew and expand the authority of federal land agencies that oversee our parks, forests and rangelands to charge user fees and allow those fees to be used at the locations where they were collected.

Let’s maintain what we’ve already got, so we can protect it properly.

Reed Watson is the executive director, and Scott Wilson a research assistant, at the Property and Environment Research Center, a property rights and environmental organization.