A House committee chaired by Rep. Richard Pombo is considering a list of budgetary actions that includes selling off 15 national park sites around the country, requiring the park service to raise money by selling millions of dollars in advertising, and opening coastal waters and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling.
A Pombo spokesman Friday called some of the ideas “ridiculous,” but said they were the kinds of options that would have to be entertained if the Arctic refuge were not opened up to revenue-generating oil drilling.
The proposals are contained in 285 pages of legislative language drafted by the House Resources Committee, which is chaired by Pombo, a conservative Tracy Republican who is leading efforts to rewrite the Endangered Species Act.
An Interior Department spokesman said agency officials were not involved in the draft, which was immediately condemned as outlandish and irresponsible by environmental groups fighting Pombo on a number of issues.
“This is just the latest attempt by Congressman Pombo ... to undermine America’s bedrock environmental protections and special places,” said Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club.
House Resources Committee spokesman Brian Kennedy called the ideas “a laundry list of possible options” that could produce the $2.4 billion in cuts or new revenue outlined in a budget resolution approved by Congress earlier this year. That legislation set income and spending targets that must now be worked out in a budget reconciliation bill the House will take up this fall.
“Without [Arctic Refuge] energy production, the only way we could come up with $2.4 billion is to come up with ridiculous and absurd things like selling national parks,” Kennedy said.
“This does have shock value, but it was not intended to be shocking,” Kennedy said. “The chairman has not determined that the budget reconciliation package will consist of one thing or another. He has no intention of selling national parks or selling advertising space in national parks, of course, but those are the kinds of things that would have to happen” without drilling.
The draft language was “inadvertently disclosed,” by the Congressional Budget Office, according to a letter sent Friday to Pombo, a few hours after an environmental newswire posted a link to the document on its website. “We apologize for this error on our part and sincerely regret any confusion it has caused,” wrote CBO Director Douglas Holtz-Eakin, who declined to comment further.
The draft proposals would allow states to petition the government to lift bans on coastal energy development. They would also authorize the sale of national park sites and preserves, including land in Alaska and the Eugene O’Neill National Historic Site, near Danville in Northern California.
Others sections of the draft would mandate the sale of advertising on official park service maps and shuttles. The Wilderness Society, an environmental group, said the language also appeared to authorize the sale of national forest parcels of up to 640 acres, which are the Western checkerboard tracts of federal lands alternating with former railroad holdings now largely owned by timber companies.