October 8, 2013

GOP rips public land shutdown

By Ben Geman
The Hill

Hunters and tourists are needlessly being kept away from public lands during the shutdown, Republicans claimed Tuesday.

GOP members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee accused the Interior Department of closing roads and lands that could have been kept open in Western states.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said the Interior Department’s Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is wrongly blocking access for hunters as the Alaskan winter approaches.

“This is moose season. This is hunting season. This is when Alaskans are filling up their freezer for a long winter. In so many of our communities there is no Costco; there is no Safeway; there is no grocery store,” said Murkowski, the panel’s top Republican. “Our hunting areas are the grocery store.”

Several GOP lawmakers spoke after the committee unanimously approved two nominees for roles in the Energy and Interior departments. The committee plans to hold a hearing as soon as next week on the shutdown's effects.

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) blasted the Interior Department's closures of areas in his state.

He said scenic highway overlooks to view Grand Teton National Park have been closed even though they don’t have trash cans or restrooms that would require staffing.

“No money has been saved by doing this,” he said.

“The Obama administration has made a concerted effort to intentionally hurt the public,” Barrasso said. “Maybe the [National] Park Service could study how to drop a large curtain in front of the mountains to block the view from the road,” he said with sarcasm.

Barrasso also said the FWS has closed a bike path that runs next to Highway 89 outside of Jackson, Wyo., for no good reason.

“Small and petty actions like these have been taken all across the West,” he said.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), meanwhile, said a rafting company in his state is losing business because a launch ramp has been closed by the Forest Service, which is part of the Agriculture Department.

Republicans are taking aim at restricted access to Washington, D.C.-area monuments and attractions and lands across the country.

“It appears this is a strategy to maximize disruption associated with the shutdown rather than minimize it,” Murkowski said, adding that private concessionaires are getting hurt from missing business.

Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) on Tuesday noted harms to energy permitting, hunting, logging and other effects of the shutdown.

Democrats want Republicans to agree to a “clean” spending bill to reopen government.

Wyden said that problems are inevitable until the government is back in business. He noted the shutdown is “inherently messy.”

“We are going to have all of these contradictions in policies, ambiguities and confusions about interpretation, and it is almost impossible to avoid it until we get the government open,” Wyden said.