Next @ CNN with Robert J. Smith



Aired August 16, 2003 – 15:00 ET

President Bush says volunteerism is the ticket to saving America’s national parks. But critics aren’t so sure. We’ll hear both sides.

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When we come back, U.S. National Parks, they’re in trouble, but is the answer more government regulation, or less?

TOM KIERNAN, NATL. PARKS CONSERVATION ASSN.: Well, first of all, we do applaud the president’s trip to the parks, and his personal support for parks, encouraging Americans to come out and volunteer. That’s a great effort the president is putting forward. Our main concern is he has pledged to clean up air quality in the parks. He has pledged to eliminate the backlog of projects in the parks and unfortunately his staffers are not fully following through on some of those pledges.

PAUL: So, you kind of put that back onto the staff as opposed to him?

KIERNAN: Well, so far when you look at the numbers, the administration has put some money into the parks, unfortunately it’s basically a continuation of the funding that was already coming to the parks, it was not a significant increase in funding for the parks. So, as a result, the backlog per the GAO’s recent report, from this last January, the backlog of projects in the parks is still roughly 4, 5 or perhaps even $6 billion, so the administration has not really been able to reduce the backlog, much less eliminate the backlog, as the president pledged two years ago.

PAUL: OK, Mr. Smith, everybody agrees, of course, the parks are beautiful, some of the facilities however, there, they’ve certainly fallen on some hard times. Is this a problem that will actually be fixed by throwing 5 billion of our tax dollars at it?

R.J. SMITH, COMPETITIVE ENTERPRISE INST.: Well, I think it’ll be a great start. I think everybody who cares about the quality of the nation’s parks and the crowned jewels should be applauding the legacy program of President Bush and Secretary Norton and Director Manila (PH), because we’ve had these problems with the decay of the parks. The continuous build up of deferred maintenance, and buildings are falling apart, bridges and trails are unsafe, trails are unsafe, water supply is shaky and risky in areas, waste water, sewage, and so on. 65 percent of the roads in the parks are in bad condition, and we have known about this for decades. I mean, Secretary Jim Watt under Reagan tried to do something about it, he said no more land acquisition until we take care of what we have, but we’ve been very, very difficult to do that, because the Greens are continuously pushing to just add more land, expansion forever, keep expanding the parks, rather than take care of the parks that we have. And now we have a president who is committed to doing something about this 5 or $6 billion backlog of maintenance. I mean, it’s so big nobody even knows what it is, and begin to start to reduce it, that’s his plan to take care of what we have, to make the parks safer, cleaner, healthier, and take care of the ecosystems in the park and that should be the first priority and not anymore expansion in the parks.


SMITH: I mean, the Greens seem to say expansion forever and forget about the quality of what we have.

PAUL: All right, Tom, let’s talk about those. Back in the 2000 campaign, when candidate George Bush first promised to fix the parks, he was very critical of President Clinton saying, he spent too much money to acquire new parks instead, and we’re talking about this, instead of fixing the ones they’ve already got. Can we do both? Fixing what’s wrong with established places like Yellow Stone and Yosemite, while fixing new places that obviously need that protection?


KIERNAN: We absolutely can. We have to remember that our National Park system tells the American story, and the American story is not stagnant story. New events are occurring, new history is being created, and the National Park system needs to commemorate and protect and celebrate that history. So, there need to be new units, but I do need to point out, that the $5 billion for the backlog of projects is only part of the solution, and the administration is not focusing on the needs of the annual operating budget of the park service. What is happening is the administration, if you will, is focused on fixing a roof or replacing a roof in a building, but is not giving the park service the funding to clean out the gutters in all of the other buildings in the parks. I’m just using that as an example. Point being, the annual operating budget of the park service is down–is down and is short by about $600 million, and the administration has not pledged any additional support–any real support for the annual operating budget of the park service, and in fact, this administration’s increases for the total park service budget on average has been about 1 percent per year, versus the previous administration was giving them 9 percent increases her year. The previous administration was ramping up funding much more quickly then this administration.

PAUL: All right. Mr. Smith, would you like to respond?

SMITH: Well, I think one of the things that’s going on now, that’s going to be very good is that the more and more of the recreation fees–the fees that are collected in the parks are beginning to stay with the parks. So, instead of going into the federal treasury, they’re in those parks and they take care of the problems that are in those parks and help those parks manage. And, after all, it’s not just the president; it’s also the Congress who decides what all of these budgets are going to be. But, clearly we’ve had an example, and we’ve seen with the Clinton administration, there was just this continuous effort to expand parks, to add new parks, to acquire more private lands, to force inholders off their lands, to take multiple use of public lands and turn them into national monuments. I mean, it seemed like it’s a policy of–more of rural cleansing than actually taking care of the crowned jewels and that’s what we need to do


SMITH: We need to prove we can take care of what we have before we have more. PAUL: OK. Mr. Kiernan, why don’t you give us your final thoughts on this.

KIERNAN: The administration has made some good symbolic gestures, but we’re still looking for significant increase in funding, both the backlog and the annual budget, but also things like the clean air in our parks. The administration’s policies, unfortunately, will worsen the clean air in many our National Parks these are other components of a experience that we want to have in our parks, the administration’s not fully funding nor fully protecting the parks so that visitors, when they’re in the parks have the experience that they all deserve and really want to have and love to have.

PAUL: Mr. Smith, your last word.

SMITH: Well, I think we’re on the way, with this administration, to finally taking care of the crowned jewels that all the world looks to, and America looks to, and I think this is what would need to do to show that we can take care, that we can be good stewards of what we have and I think that is this administration’s mantra to be stewards of the resources we have.

PAUL: Well, it’s no doubt; you visit any of them and fall in love.

All right, thank you so very much, R.J. Smith and Tom Kiernan. Thanks for your thoughts, we appreciate it.