California moves to block national park fee increases

California moved Wednesday to block the Trump administration’s proposal to more than double entrance fees at popular national parks, including Yosemite and Joshua Tree National Parks, arguing the fee increases would limit public access for low-income people and communities of color.

State Attorney General Xavier Becerra, joined by 10 other attorneys general, said in a letter that the proposed increases “threaten to distance (Americans) from the places in which so many experience the natural wonder of our great and unique nation. ... We cannot let the most popular and awe-inspiring national parks become places only for the wealthy.

“All Americans should have access to these lands, especially communities that ... have often been under-represented, including inner city children and Hispanic American and African American populations.”

The letter has no legal standing to prevent fee increases, but Becerra and other state attorneys general did not rule out future legal action. The letter said, “as a legal matter,” the National Park Service “has not offered a reasoned explanation for its proposed fee increases and its actions are inconsistent with the laws that govern our national park system.”

Proposed increases would affect 17 national parks during peak tourist seasons – mostly during summer months. In addition to Yosemite, Joshua Tree and Kings Canyon National Park in California, fee increases would affect visitors at the Grand Canyon in Arizona, Glacier National Park in Montana and Yellowstone in Wyoming.

The proposal, under Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, would raise vehicle entrance fees to $70, from $25 or $30 today. Motorcycle fees would double or triple in some cases, from the current $15 to $25, to $50. Individual entrance fees would go from today’s cost of $10 to $15, to $30. If approved, the increases would go into effect in 2018.

Fee increases are expected to generate an additional $70 million in park revenue per year, according to the National Park Service. Led by Zinke, the National Park Service proposed the increase last month – a move aimed at addressing a $11.3 billion deferred maintenance backlog for deteriorating buildings, restrooms, roads, trails, bridges and campgrounds.

“The infrastructure of our national parks is aging and in need of renovation and restoration,” Zinke said in an Oct. 24 statement. “Targeted fee increases at some of our most-visited parks will help ensure that they are protected and preserved in perpetuity and that visitors enjoy a world-class experience that mirrors the amazing destinations they are visiting.”

In the letter, Becerra offered a glimpse at his legal theory, saying the National Park Service proposal does not adequately take into account the impact of the fee increase on park visitors. He argued the agency has not done the necessary outreach to those who could be affected, and slammed it for not undertaking an economic analysis, saying the fee increases are “unlikely” to achieve the stated purpose of addressing deferred maintenance backlog.

Becerra blasted the Trump administration for seeking a fee increase while also proposing in his 2018 budget request a roughly $300 million cut to national parks. He and other attorneys general from states affected by proposed increases, including Arizona, Oregon and Washington, said if adopted, the move would further exacerbate funding shortfalls by reducing park visitation.

“It is simply disingenuous for the Trump Administration to claim that this proposal to charge families more is needed to help address the maintenance backlogs at our beautiful national parks. For every dollar the punitive fee increase raises from families, the Trump Administration intends to cut more than 4 dollars from the National Park Service’s budget,” Becerra said in a statement.

Public comment on the proposal is open through Dec. 22.

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