Washington, DC — The U.S. Department of Interior is refusing to turn over industry lobbying efforts leading up to a Bush administration proposed rewrite of National Park Service policies to favor commercial uses over preservation of park resources, according to a lawsuit filed in federal district court today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The PEER suit, filed under the Freedom of Information Act, notes that Interior officials have stalled record requests for four months and have not cited any reason to withhold copies of its exchanges with industry lobbyists.
This past August, Paul Hoffman, a former Dick Cheney aide occupying a top Interior Department slot overseeing the Park Service, circulated a total make-over of all the Management Policies governing the national park system. The Hoffman draft set off a furor, as it appeared to give dirt bikes, off-highway vehicles, and jet skis wide access to scores of national parks and seashores. Mining, grazing, helicopter tours, cell-phone towers and even rock concerts, would all have been encouraged, as park superintendents would have to show there would be permanent resource damage in order to block any requested use.
Hoffman claimed that he was trying to make park policies less “anti-enjoyment.” In a September speech to a recreation industry group, Hoffman said he “received a clear message from many constituencies” that a revision of the National Park Service’s Management Policies was necessary because of their “evident bias in favor of preservation of the park system over human use and enjoyment.”
“Which constituencies sent Paul Hoffman the clear message that national parks should no longer be so protective of nature?” asked PEER General Counsel Richard Condit who filed the complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. “We are simply trying to determine which lobbyists are really behind the new Bush administration park policies.”
Opposition was so widespread to Hoffman’s original draft that the Bush administration withdrew it but by October it unveiled a new version that was immediately dubbed “Hoffman-lite” in that it omitted some of the more egregious aspects of the earlier draft but the drift was the same. The Interior Department claimed its new version had the input of one hundred Park Service managers but was unable to identify a single one in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from media.
This new version of the Park Service Management Policy rewrite is subject to public comment until February 18th (the original December deadline that was extended at Congressional request). The proposed changes tell managers they must balance nature against an array of commercial, recreational and social uses. Critics charge that in scores of subtle wording changes, natural resource protections would be weakened, but never strengthened –
- Rules prohibiting industrial air pollution from beclouding park vistas would be unenforceable;
- Millions of acres of potential wilderness in park backcountry could be carved with trails, roads and other developments;
- Values such as “peace and tranquility” and protection of “natural soundscapes” are jettisoned to allow proliferation of cell phone towers and greater snowmobile and other motorized access.
“We know that Hoffman and his political patron, Vice-President Cheney, both have penchants for closed- door meetings with industry lawyers and lobbyists to set administration policy,” Condit added. “By law, the public has a right to know what business is conducted in its name, in this case, who Hoffman and his staff met with and what was said.”