14 Conservation CEOs Protest Proposed Parkland Cuts To Gingrich

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(05/24/1996) - Washington, D.C: As Americans headed to public beaches, parks, and forests to celebrate the Memorial Day weekend, leaders of 14 national conservation groups meeting in Washington, D.C. warned House Speaker Newt Gingrich that many of our natural areas may suffer from drastic funding cuts proposed by House leaders. The Senate is expected to determine its spending levels once senators return from Memorial Day recess.

The CEOs of the national conservation groups sent a letter to House Speaker Newt Gingrich pointing out that contrary to the environmental principles that he issued last week with the Republican Environmental Task Force, the House appropriations subcommittee that funds management and conservation of our nation's wildlife, national parks and forests, wildlife refuges, and other public lands is the biggest loser among 13 appropriations subcommittees in proposed FY 1997 spending levels.

"To ask the Department of the Interior to continue to cut spending for America's national parks, forests, and refuges is unthinkable," the leaders told Gingrich, "especially in light of the increased spending in many other areas. We fully support your efforts to balance the budget, but not at the expense of this country's environment and natural heritage."

Rodger Schlickeisen, President of Defenders of Wildlife adds, "On this Memorial Day Weekend, sunbathers at Cape Cod National Seashore, campers at Yosemite National Park, and museum visitors at the Smithsonian may not have had the federal budget on their minds, but these national treasures and many others may soon show the impacts of devastating funding cuts. While Speaker Gingrich is being photographed with animals at zoos, the House leadership is launching another attack on our public lands, wildlife and natural resources."

The letter was sent Thursday evening following House Appropriations Committee approval of FY 1997 602 (b) allocations for the thirteen House appropriations subcommittees. The 602 (b) allocations are the yearly spending allowances allotted to each appropriations subcommittee based on the overall allocation given to the full Appropriations Committee in the Budget Resolution.

As shown on the accompanying chart, for the second year in a row, the Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee has received some of the deepest funding cuts -- approximately 10 percent cut in budget authority from FY95 to FY96, and now almost another 6 percent from FY96 to FY97. In the entire FY95- FY97 period, Interior is the biggest loser. According to the Department of the Interior, this level of funding is likely to result in "deep and permanent damage to National Park units, public lands, endangered species [and] science programs...."

Conservationists say the budget attack this year may even more insidious than the one attempted through last year's spending legislation. They point out that last year, the congressional leadership tried to emasculate environmental programs in large part by changing substantive law during the funding process with riders to budget and appropriations bills. This year, in many cases, they no longer need to do that because they're proposing to cut the environmental programs so much that they will be ineffective or can no longer function.

National Audubon Society President John Flicker points out, "Without sufficient allocations from the budget, federal agencies cannot adequately enforce the nation's environmental laws. Shifting priorities to fund these important programs, like Everglades restoration and wildlife habitat conservation, will be a real sign that the Congress cares about the environment."

The Interior appropriations subcommittee is responsible for funding most Department of Interior agencies including the National Park Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Geological Survey, the Bureau of Indian Affairs; USDA's Forest Service; the Department of Health and Human Services' Indian Health Service; some Department of Energy programs such as energy conservation and the Strategic Petroleum Reserve; and cultural programs such as the Smithsonian, the Holocaust Memorial, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

In their letter, conservationists recommended that the congressional leadership look to the Department of Defense account for savings to restore adequate funding levels to the Interior subcommittee. According to the letter, "both the House and Senate are considering defense spending more than $12 billion in excess of the Department of Defense (DOD) request. Surely the DOD can sustain America's national defense with a lesser increase that would in turn allow Interior programs to be adequately funded."

Robert K. Musil, PhD, Executive Director of Physicians for Social Responsibility, adds that, "America's precious national parks and forests clearly need their own missile defense system to protect them from the budget attacks apparently launched from outer space by Speaker Gingrich and his allies on the Interior Committee. My advice to the pro-Star Wars, anti-national park crowd is simple: take a hike!"

In conclusion, the letter pointed out to Speaker Gingrich that, "You stated during last week's announcement that the Republican-adopted principles will ensure a `cleaner, safer, and healthier environment' . . . However, deep cuts in the Interior budget do nothing to carry out these principles. We ask you to take action now to change the spending allocations so that protection of America's national parks, forests, and refuges becomes reality and not just rhetoric."

Carl Pope, Executive Director of the Sierra Club, said the groups sent the letter because, "The GOP vision statement on the environment talks a good line about leaving a better environment for our families and our future, but backs those words up with a budget that slashes funding for managing our parks and public lands. Their budget risks our natural heritage."

Conservation leaders signing the letter included: John Adams, Executive Director, Natural Resources Defense Council; Brent Blackwelder, President, Friends of the Earth; Paul Hansen, Executive Director, Izaak Walton League; Gene Karpinski, Executive Director, U.S. Public Interest Group; Fred Krupp, Executive Director, Environmental Defense Fund; Paul Pritchard, President, National Parks & Conservation Association; Carl Pope, Executive Director, Sierra Club; Rindy O'Brien, Senior Vice President, The Wilderness Society; Howard Ris, Executive Director, Union of Concerned Scientists; Marty Rosen, President, Trust for Public Lands; Robert K. Musil, Executive Director, Physicians for Social Responsibility; Rodger Schlickeisen, President, Defenders of Wildlife; Victor Sher, President, Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund; and Robert Sulnick, President, American Oceans Campaign.

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Contact(s):

Joan Moody, 202-682-9400 x220 (Media)