Washington, DC — The National Park Service (NPS) is moving closer to finalizing its scheme for profit-sharing with corporations that extract and make money from organisms taken from the national parks, according to comments filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The public comment period on the agency plan ends this Monday, January 29.
Under the latest proposal, any of the nearly 400 national parks could enter into a “benefits-sharing agreement” with a corporate research firm, under which the company would provide the park with monetary or in-kind compensation for any profits derived from use of park resources. In addition, the agency “preferred alternative” would not require the royalty or other financial terms to be made public.
“Our national parks are not corporate laboratories,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose organization is urging NPS not to allow commercial development of park resources. “If the Park Service is determined to walk this treacherous path, it needs to do so in the light of day without deals cloaked in proprietary secrecy.”
The original impetus for the plan arose out of a 1997 effort by a “bio-prospecting” company named Diversa to extract microorganisms living in Yellowstone National Park’s geysers for commercial use. Legal questions and lawsuits precluded NPS plans to enter into a partnership with Diversa and forced the agency to submit for public comment a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) outlining the ramifications of its desired approach.
PEER contends that agency-wide promotion of commercial research could also be used to facilitate mineral exploration, such as proposals for drilling in Alaska’s Katmai National Park, seismic exploration for oil in national parks or creating markets for rare plants or animals from parks. In addition, corporate research agreements may be used to circumvent park wilderness protections.
Under the plan, proceeds would go exclusively to the individual park that inked the profit-sharing agreement. Significantly, the plan lacks safeguards against questionable revolving-door arrangements with park officials who negotiate the corporate revenue-sharing deals.
“Park managers should not be given direct fiscal incentives to recruit corporate partners,” Ruch added, noting that NPS regulations permit reputable scientific or educational institutions to conduct research as long as they do not impair the park’s natural or cultural resources, or visitor enjoyment. “The danger is that a park will relax its administration of resource safeguards in pursuit of a new revenue stream.”
Anomalously, the plan seeks to foster technological advances but it would forbid its own employees or former employees from earning any revenue from inventions they develop.
NPS first published its DEIS on September 22, 2006. In mid-December, NPS abruptly announced that it would not accept public comments sent via e-mail. As a consequence, more than 2,400 public comments opposing the plan that were collected by PEER and the Edmonds Institute were re-sent to the agency via U.S. mail.