By Jessica Goad and Scott Keyes.
Rep. Cliff Steans (R-FL), a birther, one of the leaders of the Solyndra witch hunt and defender of subsidies to Big Oil companies, told constituents at a town hall meeting Belleview, Florida, on February 25 that “we don’t need any more national parks in this country” and that we need to “actually sell off some of our national parks”:
I got attacked in a previous town meeting for not supporting another national park in this country, a 200-mile trailway. And I told the man that we don’t need more national parks in this country, we need to actually sell off some of our national parks, and try and do what a normal family would do is — they wouldn’t ask Uncle Joe for a loan, they would sell their Cadillac, or they would take their kids out of private schools and put them into public schools to save to money instead of asking for their credit card to increase their debt ceiling.
Our national parks represent America’s heritage, held in trust from one generation to the next.
Despite Stearns’ idea for a national-park fire sale, the facts show that parks, monuments, and other protected places generate a steady stream of wealth for both the treasury and local businesses. In 2010, Florida’s Everglades National Park generated 2,364 jobs and over $140 million in visitor spending, and Florida’s 11 national parks in total provided $582 million in economic benefits. The National Park Service also reports that America’s parks overall created $31 billion and 258,000 jobs in 2010. In addition to their economic impacts, national parks have important value in that they are available to all of us for recreation, not just the wealthy few.
This is not the first time Republican members of Congress have advocated selling off Americans’ public lands without clarifying how taxpayers would get a fair return for them. Last fall, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) proposed selling off 3.3 million acres of the public lands that belong to all of us. And former Rep. Richard Pombo proposed selling national parks to mining companies in 2005.
Republican presidential candidates have also recently been confused about the tangible and intangible values of our national parks and public lands. Mitt Romney told the Reno Gazette-Journal that he doesn’t know “what the purpose is” of public lands, Rick Santorum told Idahoans that public lands should go “back to the hands” of the private sector, and Ron Paul advocated for public lands to be turned over to the states.