As I write this, our House of Representatives could shut down non-essential services at midnight tonight. Somehow, our representatives have decided that non-essential means our national park service. Their job is to come up with a budget that will stick for a while. Instead they’re discussing the budget at the last hour. You can see the details as of about 2 pm.
A couple of days ago, the Executive Director of APPL (Association for Partners for Public Lands) sent out this assessment of the bill to fund the government until the end of 2015. Though his letter is dated 12/10/2014–that’s yesterday– it may already be obsolete but it’s certainly worht reading.
The Contents of the bill
The pluses behind the bill are less than inspiring, but pluses nonetheless:
After last year’s awful government shutdown, we avoid similar closures and disruptions this year.
The funding levels for land management agencies are not as bad as they could have been. Department of Interior budgets were largely flat, at a time when many agencies like the EPA will face substantial cuts. BLM, for example, received more funding than was requested by the Administration. On the other hand, FWS will receive more funding than last year, but less than the President’s request. (To be clear, I believe all of our land management agencies need more funding than this bill provides… but in today’s political climate, it could have been worse.)
NPS received an additional $39 million in operations and $10 million for a Centennial Challenge public-private matching program? (minimum 50% matching funds required of private sector to federal match). The NPS is required to provide the Congress with information about how it will implement the Centennial Challenge within 90 days of enactment, and APPL will be in dialogue with NPS about how it might work with its nonprofit partners on this opportunity.
Authorization of the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA), which APPL has strongly advocated for with Congressional leaders, is extended through September 2016.
Report language is also included the encourages the NPS to support ongoing public private partnerships, a statement that APPL worked with House staff to develop this summer. The bill states that “Efforts made by the Service thus far to expand partnerships are commendable, but more can be done. The Department and the Service are urged to continue reassessing recent policy interpretations and review procedures to promote the greater use of partnerships that have historically proven beneficial to national parks and partners.” The work of APPL of the NPS Advisory Board to revise Director’s Order 21 is an example of the review Congress is requesting of the NPS.
And now the minuses. It appears that in the negotiations the cost of reasonable budgets are several blows to the environmental movement through riders – an informal term for an amendment to an appropriation bill that changes the law governing a program funded by the bill. In this case, the most controversial riders places a moratorium on the Interior Department’s ability to list the sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), although there are several provisions that negatively impact wildlife. ?Unfortunately, many provisions that APPL and other conservation groups hoped to see included in the bill – especially the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act – were not.
I can tell you that there is a great deal of debate within the environmental community in Washington DC during the last 16 hours about whether public lands and the environment are bearing too much of this compromise bill. APPL is working with others to develop a balanced. community response to the legislation in the next 24 hours. We want to recognize the good work of many appropriators who fought for reasonable land management agency budgets, while registering our ongoing concern about the health of our lands in light of certain riders.
So, if you’re still with me, here’s the irony of the situation. Tomorrow, I’ll be attending the board meeting of the Great Smoky Mountains Association, one of the part partners. Then the park will have the annual Christmas party, both being held in Gatlinburg, TN, outside the park. So these two functions aren’t threatened.
But on Saturday morning, Lenny and I are taking the opportunity to hike on the Tennessee side of the Smokies. The park had better be open for us.