Over the past decade Republicans have systematically cut funding to the National Park Service (NPS) to both claim the agency is a failure and for a reason to allow corporations to have their way with the American people’s park system. Now, after years of systematic funding cuts, the NPS is so deprived of funding the agency is “going corporate.” The NPS is proposing “a relaxation on rules governing ‘corporate partnerships’ that will ensure parks become commercialized” and “dependent on corporations and private donors to stay in operation.”
According to the NPS proposal, individual park superintendents will be required to help raise up to $5 million in individual gifts from corporations and wealthy individuals. For corporations and individuals a hefty, and likely tax-deductible, donation will ensure that the particular park, such as Yellowstone, Grand Canyon or Yosemite will allow the donor to use images and park names in corporate advertising campaigns. The $5 million will also allow the donors to display their corporate logos all over the “park infrastructure” through something called “donor recognition.” One suspects the “donor recognition” will morph into renaming national parks similarly to sports stadiums across the country.
The reason the NPS is taking the drastic step is the same reason the Postal Service (USPS) had to “partner with” corporations such as office supply store Staples; to cover expenses and cut labor costs. This became necessary after Republicans passed an agency-killing scheme requiring the highly-profitable USPS to have 75 years’ worth of retirement funds in reserve.
The National Park Service heads claim that it is crucial and necessary to “liberalize” corporate involvement with a government agency. As it stands now, the NPS requires about $11 billion to cover maintenance and improvement projects at its national parks nationwide. The NPS associate director for “civic engagement,” Jeff Reinbold, explained that for years Congress has been unreliable with adequate funding to just to maintain the parks. With an $11 billion funding requirement, for the two year period from 2013-2015, the Republican controlled Congress decided to cut funding to roughly $2.5 billion; not nearly enough to maintain or improve the parks.
Mr. Reinbold said the new policy will “give us new opportunities and new tools.” Unfortunately, it will also give them powerful and influential new partners who will incrementally demand more control; they will not be satisfied with just “donor recognition.”
Some conservationists and national park advocates criticized the “corporate philanthropy” because they know what it will eventually mean. Jeff Ruch, the executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) said “We are concerned that influence peddling will soon become a major recreational activity in our national parks.”
Mr. Ruch also noted that the new rule change is a “quiet but far-reaching move” that fundamentally shifts from the NPS’ traditional role to one where the federal agency “has to seek out corporate donors just to meet its base budgets.” He said “This proposal fundamentally shifts from that traditional role to one where NPS is seeking private gifts to support its base budget, lowering its reliance on appropriated funds and increasing dependence on corporate money.” With that dependence obviously comes obedience and that is precisely what Republicans and their corporate masters are counting on happening.
PEER specifically note that in the past national park policy had indeed been influenced by a corporation that donated to the National Park Foundation. In 2011, NPS Director Jon Jarvis came very close to reversing a longtime ban on plastic water bottles at the Grand Canyon National Park. It became an important issue for Mr. Jarvis after some conversations with Coca-Cola after becoming a “major donor to the National Park Foundation.” PEER’s Ruch said that “having Jon Jarvis as the arbiter of propriety in fundraising is like putting a kleptomaniac in charge of mall security.”
For many Americans, this atrocity was in the offing according to Republican machinations to give corporations more control over the federal government. By perpetually underfunding the NPS, Republicans successfully created a necessity for corporate funding that will certainly become corporate control.
Call it privatization, or transforming the National Park system into a giant advertising venue for corporate donors, or a back-door scheme to allow logging, mining and drilling in the nation’s parks, it is a deliberate ploy to hand over more of America’s assets to corporations.