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WA Parks, Trees, Critters Need More from Feds

June 16, 2008

Seattle, WA – Washington's parks, trails, wildlife refuges and environmental cleanup plans have been operating on too little federal money, for too long. That's the view of Washington's 6th District Congressman Norm Dicks, who chairs the House Interior and Environment subcommittee. Last week, the subcommittee rejected the budget cuts that the president proposed for 2009, and added $1.3 billion dollars for agencies like the U.S. Forest Service and Park Service.

Mike Anderson, a senior resource analyst for The Wilderness Society, says it's been quite a while since these agencies got a financial break.

"Both the Forest Service and the Park Service have taken a real hit during the Bush Administration, in terms of funding. They've had a lot of cutbacks in their staffing; campgrounds have closed, trails and roads are in poor repair. We're really grateful that Congressman Dicks is trying to really turn that around."

The bill also includes funds for wildland firefighting, and the pollution cleanup programs of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, including efforts in Puget Sound. Dicks says without the increases, the agencies would be getting less than what they need, for programs that are already scaled down. The Administration says many budgets are being trimmed, in an effort to cope with the nation's record deficit.

The energy crisis prompted a last-minute push to tack on more oil exploration in the bill, a development Anderson says conservation groups plan to watch carefully.

"There's an effort by some of the Republicans in the House to open up offshore oil drilling, off the West coast and Florida, and that's going to be very controversial. It probably will not succeed, but that is one issue that a lot of us are quite worried about."

Congressman Dicks told the subcommittee that 72 percent of oil and 84 percent of natural gas reserves already are accessible on land, without the need for ocean drilling. The "Interior and Environment Appropriations Bill" goes to the full House Appropriations Committee this Wednesday.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA