The House of Representatives overwhelmingly rejected a bill Tuesday that would have set the stage for getting rid of some federally owned beaches, forests, historic sites and national monuments.
The legislation was touted by House conservatives as a way to save money and eliminate pork-barrel National Park Service projects.
It would have created a review panel, similar to the military base-closure commission, to study 319 Park Service properties and recommend some for closure or transfer to the states.
Environmentalists went along with a similar proposal in 1994, conceding that the Park Service has huge longstanding money problems and is stuck with some dubious properties.
But the 1994 proposal never came to a vote and this year, fearing a conservative assault on the parks, the activists turned against the idea.
The proposal was rejected by a 231-180 vote that cut across ideological and party lines.
“The environmental community is going wild,” said Rep. Bill Richardson, a New Mexico Democrat who worked to defeat the bill. “It’s the first victory in a long time. And this is a big one.”
Backers like Republican James Hansen of Utah knew the issue was as touchy as a truckload of nitroglycerine on a rocky road.
“Talking about shutting down national parks is like spitting on the flag,” Hansen said this spring.
But he predicted that for the sake of balancing the budget, the American people would be willing to get rid of some obvious ringers, like a bogus South Carolina Revolutionary War historic site and a not-very-parklike freeway between Washington and Baltimore.
Hansen and other Republican leaders thought they had eliminated the risk of a political explosion by exempting all 54 national parks from potential closure. They were so confident they brought the bill to the floor under special rules that required a two-thirds majority to pass.
But the bill fell nearly 100 votes shy of the target. Sixty-seven Republicans joined 163 Democrats and one independent to defeat the measure.
Richardson said his staff drew up a list of 198 Park Service sites “at risk” - those with the smallest budgets and the fewest visitors - then mapped them by congressional districts, and sent the list to representatives of the “at risk” districts. The tactic seemed to work, as Republicans who had never before broken ranks with their party on an environmental issue joined Richardson’s side.
xxxx HOW NW VOTED The votes of Northwest representatives on a bill to create a parks-closing commission. A “yes” vote is a vote to pass the bill. Voting yes were 159 Republicans and 21 Democrats. Voting no were 67 Republicans, 163 Democrats and one independent. IDAHO Republicans - Chenoweth, didn’t vote; Crapo, Y. MONTANA Democrats - Williams, N. WASHINGTON Republicans - Dunn, Y; Hastings, Y; Metcalf, Y; Nethercutt, Y; Smith, Y; Tate, Y; White, N. Democrats - Dicks, N; McDermott, Y.