The Global Citizen: Let's Hang On To The Family Jewels

I don't believe that the voters who put the Newtsies in power last fall intended to sell off our national lands and gut our environmental laws. I can't remember any politician running on a promise to devastate the natural assets of the nation. So we better wake up, folks, because that's what's happening. Here are a few of the unconservative measures already passed by Congress or well on their way to passage. Rep. Joel Hefley (R-Colorado) and Sen. Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska) are creating a commission to decide which of our national parks to close. High on the list are urban parks like Golden Gate National Recreation Area in San Francisco and Gateway National Recreation Area in New York City. "If you've been there once, you don't need to go again," is how Rep. James Hansen (R-Utah), chairman of the House Subcommittee on National Parks, sums up the legacy now in his hands. Hansen thinks the parks should be sold to developers, bringing in a one-time flush of money to help balance the government budget. Another budget-balancing scheme will sell oil exploration leases to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. That would bring in about $1 billion once. (The deficit is running well over $200 billion every year). It would also bring in wells, pipelines, roads, air strips, ports, and garbage dumps to a pristine area now inhabited by polar bears, musk oxen, millions of migratory birds, and thousands of breeding caribou. Geologists say there's a 20 percent chance of striking enough oil there to fuel the nation for six months. Congress's new Clean Water Act turns 60-80 percent of the nation's remaining wetlands (half are already gone) over to drainers and developers. It ignores the careful definition of a wetland given in a new study by the National Research Council -- and all the reasons for saving wetlands, from flood control to ground water recharge to fish breeding. Says an ecologist who helps developers build without ruining wetlands, "Congress is trying to impose a policy without consideration of science." Sen. Slade Gorton's (R-Washington) "logging without laws" rider is still attached to the budget rescission bill, passed by both houses, vetoed by President Clinton, now on its way back to his desk in revised form. The rider requires the Forest Service to sell off 6 billion board feet from our national forests, waiving every environmental law that might slow the cut. The plan is defended as a "forest health" measure to remove dead and dying trees. A better description was given by the Denver Post: "a frontal assault against public lands on behalf of a few corporate interests." Sen. Gorton has also redrafted the Endangered Species Act, essentially repealing it. His bill would allow the Interior Secretary to decide that a species is not worth protecting. It no longer requires the Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management to consider endangered species before opening public lands to private logging, mining, or grazing. No creature on public land would be safe if it stands in the way of anyone's private plan to make money. This Congress also plans to: - Allow road-building in national parks and wildlife refuges. - Ease restrictions on emissions of 70,000 different water pollutants. - Turn federal lands back to the states. (That includes Bureau of Land Management lands, national forests, wildlife refuges, and some national parks.) - Give ranchers who graze cattle on public lands the right to restrict public access to those lands, use water, cut wood, set fires, kill endangered species, and set their own rules about overgrazing. - Ignore the 30-year-old law that puts into a Land and Water Conservation Fund the $900 million the government receives each year in offshore gas and oil royalties. Federal, state, and town governments use this fund to purchase parks and other land from willing sellers. The Newtsies want the money to go to the general government pot. Many of these measures are touted as ways to balance the budget. But the budget can't be the real goal, because this Congress is NOT proposing to ask concessionaires who have monopolies in national parks to pay the government a fair share of their profits. It is NOT suggesting that we stop charging below-market rates for grazing, logging, and mining rights on federal land. The deficit could be reduced by at least $1 billion a year if we ended these giveaways -- and of course billions more if we were as austere in the military budget as we are in the social budget. What is going on is not budget-balancing but resource-grabbing. America's publicly owned resources have always been up for grabs under either political party, but previously the pace was restrained. Now it's furious. The grabbers know they have to take advantage of their buddies in power fast, before the public wises up. I suspect that you good people who voted for the perpetrators of this raid really wanted an end to the practice of passing on debts to our children. You know better than to pretend to balance the budget by selling off the family jewels. I can't believe for a minute that you think it helps our children to sell our resources cheap in this generation and leave the next generation a denuded, polluted land. If I'm right about you, we have to do some urgent, firm communicating to Washington (to call Congress: 202-225-3121) -- and some careful checking before we vote again.

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