• April 22nd, 2024
  • Monday, 05:20:20 AM

América’s Worst Idea

Photo: Courtesy Sierra Club/US Department of Interior Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

Zozobra, according to New México tradition, is a dark character, half ghost, half monster, the enemy of everything good and decent who robs people of their most treasured possession, hope.

“Zozobra” is also Spanish for anxiety and fear. And that’s exactly what I feel after seeing Donald Trump and his Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke attack all that is good and decent in the natural heritage that belongs to all of us. In his visit to Utah, Trump made official his drastic shrinkage of two national monuments, more than 80 percent of Bears Ears and 40 percent of Grand Staircase-Escalante, a historic blow to the country’s great outdoors.

“With the action I’m taking today, we will not only give back your voice over the use of this land. We will also restore your access and your enjoyment. Public lands will once again be for public use,” said Trump with a straight face, knowing fully well that his decision will open up these lands to mining and fossil fuel exploitations.

“Why would we want to limit access to these places that are so beautiful and precious for so many.”
Maite Arce

Among the hundreds of thousands of public comments offered about this decision, 98 percent supported the protection and integrity of national monuments.

“This is unprecedented and Latinos are taking notice,” says Maite Arce, president of Hispanic Access Foundation, a group dedicated to the promotion and preservation of public lands. “During the comment period of the Department of the Interior, more than 53,000 Latinos expressed their rejection to this shrinkage and support to the monuments. The Trump administration is just looking at the short-term benefits of the mining and energy development in those places.”

But this “zozobra” doesn’t end here. Zinke has proposed a 100-percent increase in the admission fees to some of the country’s most emblematic national parks — including the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and Yosemite — to finance the maintenance and improvement of the park’s infrastructure. This means a slap in the face to the country’s least privileged families, who clearly won’t be able to afford this increase.

“This undermines the equity we have been working so hard to build,” says Arce. “We have seen a record increase of Latino visitors in the past two years. This fee hike will definitely limit access to too many Latino families.”

The need to invest in and maintain our national parks is unquestionable. But placing this burden on the shoulders of the least affluent is unjust and cruel, especially after the US Senate’s passing of Trump’s monstrous tax reform bill, including a miniscule share for national parks and blowing up a $1.4-trillion hole in the federal deficit, mostly to benefit the wealthiest at the expense of the country’s working families.

“Why would we want to limit access to these places that are so beautiful and precious for so many,” wonders Arce. “I just can’t imagine anyone saying, ‘yeah, let’s take all that away from the public’.”

We also need to consider the lack of moral authority of an administration mired in an endless list of scandals, including some involving Zinke himself. The Department of the Interior’s Inspector General’s Office is investigating Zinke’s use of private charter flights, including one from Las Vegas to his Montana hometown that cost more than $12,000.

Also, Whitefish Energy, a two-person company with close ties to Zinke, scored a scandalous $300-million contract to repair Puerto Rico’s electric grid after Hurricane María practically leveled the island. Weeks later, the Puerto Rican government canceled the contract due to Whitefish’s incompetence and abuses.

In the midst of this offensive against what novelist and historian Wallace Stegner called América’s best idea — our national parks and other special places — it’s at least somewhat comforting to know that, according to New México’s tradition, Zozobra ends up defeated.


Javier Sierra is a Sierra Club columnist. Follow him on Twitter @javier_SC.


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