Does anything ever get done in Washington, D.C.? The news constantly portrays Capitol Hill as a deadlocked and rancorous place where good ideas get shot down in a seemingly endless cycle of partisan wrangling.
It’s true that members of Congress are frequently at odds on controversial bills, and I don’t expect that to change anytime soon. But despite those disputes, many elected officials really do try to do the right thing when it comes to our national parks. I know because I keep track.
Since its inception in 1999, I have managed NPCA’s Friend of the National Parks Award. I’ve tallied congressional votes on key national park issues to determine who our political champions are. We let legislators know in advance of a vote how it affects parks and how to vote to protect the parks—and that we’ll be scoring their vote. Then, after each congressional session is over, I do the math. Those legislators who vote the right way most of the time earn NPCA’s Friend of the National Parks Award. This award is a point of pride for many politicians, but just as important, it’s a way for voters to know whether their representatives support these issues.
Over the last two years, members of the House of Representatives voted on seven critical park-related bills and amendments. (Not enough votes came to the floor of the Senate to give awards there this year, though we do have strong park advocates in the Senate too, and hope to recognize them with “Friends” awards again in the future.) Here are the votes we used to determine this year’s Friends of the National Parks:
- Vote to amend H.R. 1: FY11 Continuing Resolution. On February 19, 2011, the House voted to eliminate funding to implement the Antiquities Act, a law that gives the president authority to designate national monuments—and one of the most important U.S. conservation laws. The amendment failed to pass the House. A no vote is the pro-park vote.
- H.R. 1022: Buffalo Soldiers in the National Parks Study Act. On January 25, 2012, the House passed H.R. 1022, authorizing a study to determine how the Buffalo Soldiers’ story could be represented within the National Park System, recognizing the African-American troops that served as some of our national parks’ first guardians. The bill passed the House, but not the Senate. A yes vote is the pro-park vote.
- S. 1134: St. Croix River Crossing Project Authorization Act. On March 1, 2012, the House voted on whether to construct a massive freeway-style bridge over the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway. The bridge will cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars and harm the recreational and scenic values for which this river was granted protection under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. The bill passed both houses of Congress and President Obama signed it into law on March 14, 2012. A no vote is the pro-park vote.
- Vote to amend H.R. 4089: The Sportsmen’s Heritage Act. On April 17, 2012, the House voted on an amendment that would have clarified which units of the National Park System should remain closed to hunting under the bill. As written, the Sportsmen’s Heritage Act could have opened all units of the National Park System to hunting, a serious concern for the hundreds of units where visitors go to learn and contemplate serious events in our nation’s history, or places to enjoy hiking, camping, and viewing wildlife in their natural habitat. The amendment failed and the bill passed the House, but did not pass the Senate. A yes vote is the pro-park vote.
- Vote to amend H.R. 4089: The Sportsmen’s Heritage Act. On April 17, 2012, the House voted on an amendment to the Sportsmen’s Heritage Act that would have required presidential monument designations under the Antiquities Act to be approved by governors and state legislatures. This amendment would have created serious obstacles to making designations, defeating the purpose of enabling a president to act swiftly to protect sensitive federal land from harm. The bill passed the House but not the Senate. A no vote is the pro-park vote.
- H.R. 2578: The Conservation and Economic Growth Act. On June 19, 2012, the House voted on a package of bills that could have negatively impacted a number of national park units, specifically undermining protections for nesting shorebirds and turtles at Cape Hatteras National Seashore and allowing a costly road through designated wilderness in North Cascades National Park. The most extreme provision would have created a zone within 100 miles of the U.S. borders with Mexico and Canada where the Department of Homeland Security could override the most basic protections for national park sites. The bill passed the House, but not the Senate. A no vote is the pro-park vote.
- H.R. 5987: Manhattan Project National Historical Park Act. On September 20, 2012, the House voted to establish a park that would preserve locations related to the history of the development of the atomic bomb. Along with deepening public understanding of the role our nation played in this enormous endeavor, a Manhattan Project National Historical Park would educate future generations about the awesome power, consequences, and moral responsibility wrought through this legacy. The bill failed to pass the House. A yes vote is the pro-park vote.
I’m pleased that my own representative, Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, is a Friend of the National Parks, and will be one of the 157 members of the House of Representatives receiving the award on July 17. With more friends like him in Congress, we could not only make more progress preserving our parks, but also maybe even work on that bad reputation we have in D.C. for getting nothing done.