Zinke Abandons Plan to Make National Parks Outrageously Expensive

Happy tourists in Death Valley.
Happy tourists in Death Valley.
Photo: AP

Another wildly unpopular Ryan Zinke proposal bites the dust.

Last November, the Department of Interior floated the idea of major fee hikes at some of the most popular parks in the national park system during the high season. The public spoke during a comment period, and it was not happy.

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On Thursday, in a rare sign that our democracy is still somewhat functional, the National Park Service—which Zinke oversees as Interior Secretary—announced that visitors wouldn’t be charged up to $70 to visit national treasures like Yosemite, Yellowstone, and Rocky Mountain.

Instead, a series of modest $5 fee hikes will be spread out across 117 sites the agency manages, starting on June 1. Annual passes for individual parks will also increase $5-10 while the annual system-wide pass will stay at $80.

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This is a much more palatable plan to just about everyone. It will keep parks largely affordable and accessible to all Americans. And it ensure that gateway communities that depend on a steady stream of hikers, campers, gawkers, and park lovers won’t become ghost towns. And the park system itself will gain some needed financial security.

“Fees do have a role to play in our parks, and the administration’s move to abandon its original proposal in favor of more measured fee increases will put additional funds into enhancing park experiences without threatening visitation or local economies,” Theresa Pierno, the head of the National Parks Conservation Association, said in a statement.

The agency expects that the diffuse increase in fees will bring in $60 million in extra revenue annually. In the 2016 fiscal year, the agency collected $199 million in fees, so the extra cash isn’t exactly chump change. In fact, it’s much needed money because the 417 parks, monuments, and other sites in the system have a lot of things to fix. There are $11.6 billion in deferred repairs, to be exact.

The fee increase will help close that gap, along with the proposed Public Lands Infrastructure Fund. This fund would rely on fossil fuel leases on other federal lands, because of course.

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For now, though, let’s celebrate some good news. And who knows, maybe Zinke will take the will of the people into account on another of his toxic proposals.

Managing editor, Earther

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Speaking of “toxic proposals” for expanding DoI lands coal mining, this just in

Senate Confirms Faegre Baker’s Wheeler For EPA’s No. 2 Post

Andrew R. Wheeler is an American lawyer and lobbyist who specializes in energy and environmental policy. Since 2009, he has been a co-leader of the energy practice at the law firm of Faegre Baker Daniels. Wheeler was previously an aide to U.S. Senator James Inhofe and a staffer on the United States Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. Wheeler is a critic of nationwide limits on greenhouse gas emissions and has supported the continued use of fossil fuels.[1]

Pro tip: when a dude specializes in energy and environmental policy, it means he’s employed or retained by energy to fuck over the environment. As in, “how can I workaround these environmental regulations for my client who would make shitloads more money (and pay me bigger legal fees) without all those pesky rules and standards.

Wheeler cut his teeth at EPA, like many white shoe (a JD from Wash U. being white shoe is debatable) environmental attorneys. The big money is in writing in the loophole as a regulator and selling knowledge to those in need of loopholes in private practice. He’s probably looking to write in more loopholes to allow direct discharge of flue gas. Then cycle back into private practice. Sadly, this is a dem and repub thing. There’s a lot of enviro NGOs selling this kind of service. Like all the big greens who offer “third way” environmental advocacy.