National Parks Screwing Up Cell Tower Permits  

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Thursday, March 18, 2021
Jeff Ruch (510) 213-7028
Kirsten Stade


National Parks Screwing Up Cell Tower Permits

Nearly One-Third Invalid or Expired; Call to Extend Permit Moratorium


Washington, DC — The National Park Service does not know how many cell towers have been erected in park units but acknowledges that of the ones it knows about more than a third have expired or lapsing permits or never had a proper permit at all.  In a letter to NPS’ parent agency,  Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is asking that the post-inauguration moratorium on new permits be extended for park cell tower decisions to sort out the mess.

In July 2019, in response to a PEER complaint, Interior’s Office of Inspector General (IG) issued a report finding widespread noncompliance with legal requirements for issuing commercial rights-of-way for cell towers erected by telecom companies on park lands. NPS admitted that it had no accurate inventory of these facilities but promised to complete one by October 2020. In an inventory dated December 2020, NPS lists 109 towers in 33 parks, however –

  • The inventory does not include at least 20 approved towers (8 or more of which have been erected) in locations ranging from Bryce Canyon to Grand Teton to Sequoia National Parks;
  • Of the 109 towers listed, NPS concedes that 15 have no valid permit at all while 19 operate under permits that have expired.  Another 19 towers have permits that have recently lapsed or soon will; and
  • NPS has not removed any of the non-compliant towers or secured cost recovery owing from telecom companies for past or ongoing market-based permit fees.

“How can the National Park Service consider itself a responsible custodian when it has no idea what commercial operations exist on park lands or whether these corporations are paying their fair share?” asked PEER Executive Director Tim Whitehouse. “We hope that the Biden administration will clean house in the Park Service headquarters and hold managers accountable for their negligence.”

After inauguration, the Biden-led Interior Department imposed a moratorium on the issuance of new rights-of-way, easements, and related permits for 60 days.  PEER is asking Interior to extend that moratorium for NPS cellular permits for another 60 days until May 20, 2021 to ensure that NPS address these problems before more cell tower approvals are issued.

One additional problem the IG confirmed was lack of compliance by NPS with its own rules for public notice.  Rather than strengthen those rules, NPS has eliminated requirements that it notify the public before new cell tower applications are reviewed or approved.

“The rules for public notice before park superintendents enter into negotiations with telecom companies should be strengthened, not truncated,” stated Pacific PEER Director Jeff Ruch, noting that PEER has repeatedly had to file lawsuits under the Freedom of Information Act in order to pry information from parks about wireless facilities. “As evidenced by the appalling ongoing neglect of basic management responsibilities, more public scrutiny is needed to make sure that both the parks and the public interest are protected in these commercial dealings.”



Read PEER letter urging an extension of permit moratorium

Look at the official NPS inventory of cell towers

See cell towers not on NPS list

View critical IG audit citing widespread noncompliance

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