November 6, 2013
By JOHN PODESTA
The House Republicans’ 16-day government shutdown cost the economy $24 billion, shaved .25 percent from fourth-quarter economic growth and damaged the reputation of the United States.
But for many Americans, it was the closure of 401 national parks and monuments that brought the shutdown home. Each day of the shutdown, communities near parks lost an estimated total of $76 million in economic activity.
Of the many lessons our leaders ought to learn from the shutdown, this one is central: America’s parks are a national treasure and a crucial economic engine for many parts of the country. Elected leaders should take swift action to open new parks, wildlife refuges, monuments and recreation and wilderness areas for the enjoyment of the public instead of slashing budgets, laying off rangers and closing parks.
For most Americans, creating and protecting parks is not a partisan issue. Last November, American communities passed 46 separate ballot measures that collectively invest $767 million to build new parks and protect open space and quality drinking water. Public opinion research commissioned by the Center for American Progress found that Americans’ top priority for their public lands is to ensure that they are protected for future generations to enjoy.
But since the tea party takeover of the House in 2010 — and for the first time since World War II — Congress has not protected a single new acre of land as a national park, monument or wilderness area. Instead, they have cut the National Park Service budget by 13 percent over the past three years even as the number of visitors to many of America’s national parks has reached record levels.
To break the hold of anti-park advocates in Congress, President Barack Obama, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack should take this opportunity to lead a renewed movement for parks and public lands. Together with moderate leaders from both parties, the president can take three immediate steps to restore and protect public lands.
First, as budget negotiations begin again, Washington must ensure that America’s forests, parks and public lands have the staff and funding they need to stay open for their full season.
Second, we should finally and permanently dedicate a portion of offshore oil and gas revenues to help communities protect parks and open spaces through the Land and Water Conservation Fund, as they were originally intended.
Third, the president should take a page from his predecessors and use his executive authorities to immediately establish the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument in New Mexico and a new national monument in California’s San Gabriel Mountains, proposals that are strongly supported by local communities. Since 2009, the Obama administration has leased two and a half times more acreage on public lands to oil and gas companies than it has set aside for conservation. It’s past time to restore the balance between conservation and energy exploration on public lands.
The president should also insist that Congress free more than two dozen stalled wilderness, parks and conservation bills. These bills, customarily sponsored by home-state senators and representatives, would protect nearly 4 million acres of land from Oregon to Tennessee. If Congress continues to close parks instead of creating new ones, however, the president should make clear that he will use executive authority to protect these places.
Wallace Stegner called national parks “the best idea we ever had.” From Mount Rainier to Mount Rushmore, from the North Cascades to Acadia, our system of national parks, forests and public lands is enjoyed by millions of Americans, fuels local economies and preserves wild, beautiful, free places for generations to come. If the Obama administration drives the public lands agenda forward, the American people will leave Congress no choice but to follow. Our country and our future will be better for it.
John Podesta is chairman of the Center for American Progress.
Read more: http://www.politico.com/story/2013/10/john-podesta-national-parks-99114.html#ixzz2ju3Cs7B5