Their View: Many steps should be taken to maintain legacy
As the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, in 2016, approaches, the Bush administration is reaching out to private donors. So far, corporations and private groups have pledged more than $300 million to help clean up the park system, which has been deteriorating for years under inadequate maintenance budgets.
Such private help certainly is welcome. But it must not become an excuse to place commercial interests above the public's. For instance, in areas where national parks welcome off-road vehicles and snowmobiles, sales of local businesses may soar, but conservation efforts frequently suffer. New roads through the wilderness may help logging companies, but they disrupt plant and animal habitats. Increased development surrounding the parks has degraded their ecosystems.
Promoting the environmental health of these treasured places would be a fitting way to honor the park service's work in 2016.
Among the greatest threats to national parks, especially in the West, is a recent boom in nearby mining. The annual number of new claims for mining hard-rock minerals, such as gold, copper and uranium, has leaped by tens of thousands since 2003. One reason is, fueled by a new interest in nuclear power, uranium prices have risen dramatically.
Yet under antiquated mining laws, private companies pay no royalties when they extract valuable minerals from public lands. Nor are they generally held responsible for the routine environmental damage caused by their operations. Uranium mining, for example, leaves radioactive “tailings,” which can poison water supplies if not properly contained - a job likely to fall to taxpayers.
A recent report from the Environmental Working Group notes hundreds of mining claims have been staked within five miles of Grand Canyon National Park. Many are near well-traveled tourist routes. Dozens more lie just as close to Yosemite, Yellowstone and Death Valley national parks.
Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., has introduced legislation that would curb this trend. The Hard-rock Mining and Reclamation Act calls for companies that extract valuable minerals to pay royalties, just as the coal, oil and gas industries must do. It also would forbid mining in sensitive wilderness areas and establish a cleanup fund for abandoned sites. All of these steps are crucial to ensure the nation's parks remain a cherished legacy, and to reinforce the idea they belong to the public.
- The Providence Journal