What others say: Interior Department shapes economy of rural West

  • By The (Grand Junction) Daily Sentinel editorial
  • Wednesday, February 14, 2018 10:00pm
  • Opinion

If Western communities seem obsessed with the policies and budget priorities of the U.S. Department of the Interior, it’s with good reason.

Interior has its fingerprints all over local economies near public lands. From mineral development and grazing to outdoor recreation and Payments in Lieu of Taxes, the department shapes economic conditions in the rural West in a way that few folks east of the Mississippi can understand or appreciate.

Mesa County, with a huge amount of federally managed land and a National Park Service property to boot, is disproportionately affected by Interior’s moves.

There’s plenty to like in Secretary Ryan Zinke’s proposed $11.7 billion budget proposal, especially a legislative proposal to establish a Public Lands Infrastructure Fund, which would provide up to $18 billion to address a backlog of deferred maintenance in national parks, national wildlife refuges and Bureau of Indian Education schools.

“Our parks and refuges are being loved to death,” Zinke said in a press release. Our own Colorado National Monument has a deferred-maintenance backlog in excess of $20 million. Anything that can spruce up our area’s biggest attraction would be a welcome change from years of underfunding the National Park Service.

But there’s a rub here. There always is. Interior’s proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2019 represents a 16 percent reduction over the previous year and a 7 percent overall cut to the National Park Service. Funding for NPS operations remains flat and the budget proposes cuts to cultural programs, land acquisition and a grant program that leverages philanthropic giving. The special fund to tackle deferred park maintenance would come from energy leasing revenues.

The proposition of opening up more land and waters for oil and gas development to rebuild the National Park System naturally rubs conservation groups the wrong way. It’s like tying funding for a healthy eating initiative to fast food sales.

Much of what Zinke’s budget attempts to do sounds good. It “enables Interior to carry out its core mission of responsible multiple-use of public lands in a way that both conserves America’s iconic landscapes and supports responsible resource development,” according to Interior’s press shop.

But as we learned long ago, “responsible” is in the eye of the beholder.

We would prefer that the National Park Service not have to endure cuts at the same time it’s being promised money to fix longtime problems. But we’re reminded that Congress has painted itself into a corner on nearly all budget matters. If the money for the repair backlog wasn’t coming from energy revenues, where would it come from? More debt-financed budget deals?

— The (Grand Junction) Daily Sentinel,

Feb. 14

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