Please Comment by May 4th, 2004, On Senate Fee Demo Oversight Hearing
A Senate hearing on the current Fee Demo program was held April 21st. Public comments are being accepted until May 4th. Please weigh in with your opinion about this controversial program at the email address or fax number listed below.
Meanwhile, in the House, a new monster fee demo bill has been proposed by Representative Ralph Regula (R-OH) and seven east coast Republican representatives. If passed, the bill (HR 3283) would not only expand Fee Demo and make it permanent, it would require a pass or access fee to nearly ALL public lands.
Under the new Regula-House proposal, the Bureau of Reclamation would be added to the fee demo program in addition to the National Park Service, US Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service and institute stiff penalties for non-payment. HR 3283 establishes a National Pass called the "America the Beautiful Pass" and would be required for access to lands administered by any of the five land management agencies. Indications are that it would cost at least $85 annually and could be much higher. The bill would also abolish the Golden Age Pass, which has traditionally been available as a lifetime pass to seniors for onetime cost of $10. Seniors would have to purchase an "America the Beautiful Pass" annually. "Basic Fees" will be charged for general access to all federal land as well as for: visitor centers; dispersed areas with no investment and backcountry use; roads, pull offs, and scenic overlooks; drinking fountains and restrooms; and undeveloped parking and individual picnic tables. "Expanded Fees" would be required for specialized facilities like campgrounds and boat launches.
According to Robert Funkhouser, President of the Western Slope No-Fee Coalition, "The No-Fee Coalition as well as individuals and organizations nationwide are surprised and disappointed that this bill would see the light of day. This is a new tax to access public lands and has been severely criticized both from within Congress and by the public at large." The penalty for not having a pass on the roughly 700 million acres of federally administered public land would be a Class B Misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and/or a $5,000 fine. HR 3283 throws out the constitutional protection of "presumed innocent until proven guilty". Persons who failed to properly display a pass (even though one might have been purchased) would be considered guilty by the land management agencies. Representative George Radanovich (R-CA), Chairman of the Subcommittee on National Parks, Recreation and Public Lands has announced a legislative hearing on HR 3283 for May 6th, 2004. The bill would require the public to buy a public lands "passport" for all land managed by the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Bureau of Reclamation.
Of the seven co-sponsors, four are on the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, which originally implemented the controversial Recreational Fee Demonstration Program (Fee Demo) as an appropriations rider in 1996 and has since extended it five times. It is currently scheduled to expire on December 31, 2005. The sponsors are Representatives Ralph Regula (R-OH), Zach Wamp (R-TN), Don Sherwood (R-PA), and John Peterson (R-PA). Other Co-Sponsors are Mark Souder (R-IN), Tom Petri (R-WI), and David Hobson (R-OH).
"This is an outrageous bill that would make trespassers out of taxpayers and it's an insult to our senior citizens," said Funkhouser. "We will do all we can to see that it dies a well-deserved death in committee." HR 3283 can be read online at: http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c108:HR3283: In the Senate, the Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests, chaired by Senator Larry Craig (R-ID) held Fee Demo oversight hearings on April 21st. The Subcommittee will consider the advisability of permanently authorizing a Recreation Fee Program for the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and other Department of Interior Agencies. Testimony was heard regarding the implementation of Fee Demo from the Department of Interior and the Forest Service. Also testifying were opponents of the Fee Demo Program. See transcripts at http://energy.senate.gov/hearings/witnesslist.cfm?id=1145. The Senate hearings could determine the fate of Senate bill S.1107, which was passed unanimously in February by the Energy and Natural Resources Committee but has not yet gone to the Senate floor for a vote. If passed as written, S.1107 would allow Fee Demo to expire for the Forest Service, BLM, and Fish & Wildlife Service. Only the National Park Service fee program would continue. Fee Demo opponents have generally supported S.1107, but are leery of a campaign led by Interior Secretary Gale Norton to amend it with language similar to that in the House bill. It is very possible that this hearing will lead to new legislation or an amendment to S.1107 to make fees permanent for these 3 agencies. "Fee supporters in Congress and the land management agencies are doing everything they can to push the fee agenda. If they prevail in this, Americans, especially those of us in the West will have to buy a pass to leave the city limits," said No-Fee Coalition co-founder Kitty Benzar. Senator Craig chairs the Senate's Public Lands and Forests subcommittee, which held the hearings. Address your fax/email to Senator Larry Craig, Chair, Senate Public Lands & Forests subcommittee, by fax to (202) 224-6163, email to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Comments are due by midnight, Tuesday, May 4th. It is also extremely important to contact your state's Senators and Congressmen now about Fee Demo and these hearings.
Suggestions for comments: Ask that Fee Demo not be extended or made permanent for the US Forest Service, BLM or US Fish & Wildlife Service. Ask that your comments please be included in the public record for the Fee Demo hearing on 4.21.04.
State, in your own words, why you oppose Fee Demo. Mention that, according to a 2003 General Accounting Office report, US Forest Service fees are making very little money after expenses are paid. (In fact, US Forest Service Fee Demo required a $10 million boost from appropriated tax dollars in 2001!)
SUGGESTED LETTER WORDING (Please put in your own words and add further points. Exact copies of this sample letter will carry much less weight.)
Senator Larry Craig,
Chair, Senate Public Lands & Forests subcommittee
FAX (202) 224-6163,
RE: Comments to be included in the public record for the Fee Demo hearing on 4.21.04.
Dear Senator Craig,
Please completely end the Recreation Fee Demo program for the US Forest Service, the BLM and the US Fish & Wildlife Service. I am strongly opposed to Fee Demo, even if more free days and free areas are added. Fee Demo is clearly a new double tax that makes criminals out of taxpayers. A 2003 report by the General Accounting Office found that Forest Service Fee Demo relied on $10 million of appropriated tax dollars to subsidize the program. This makes the cost of collection and administration around 50%. Fee Demo is not worth it.
Please include this letter in the public comments for the Fee Demo hearing on 4.21.04.
(name and address-print this clearly to be included)
River Runners for Wilderness thanks the Western Slope No Fee Coalition for this alert.