Colorado editorials: Americans shouldn’t be priced out of visiting National Parks |

Colorado editorials: Americans shouldn’t be priced out of visiting National Parks

Courts will decide monuments action

Among the more troubling aspects of President Donald Trump’s justification for shrinking two national monuments in Utah is his suggestion that federally managed public lands essentially belong to the people in the state.

“No one values the splendor of Utah more than you do,” Trump told an enthusiastic crowd Monday as he announced proclamations dramatically shrinking Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, “and no one knows better how to use it.”

Trump repeatedly returned to the theme that he was righting the wrong of federal overreach by wresting control of natural resources in Utah from a few Washington bureaucrats and returning it to the people.

But which people? Certainly not the five Native American tribes that consider Bears Ears sacred and pushed for the creation of the monument. Tribal leaders representing the Navajo, Hopi, Pueblo of Zuni, Ute Mountain and Ute Indians said they will take the Trump administration to court to challenge the action on Bears Ears. Other groups are planning to sue over Grand Staircase-Escalante.

The president’s action wasn’t some surprise out of left field. It was foretold by an opaque process of evaluating monuments created since 1996, which resulted in Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s recommendation to change the boundaries of six of the 27 monuments under review. But details were withheld until Trump’s announcement provided specifics on the two Utah monuments.

Ironically, the legal argument challenging Trump’s action is that it amounts to presidential overreach — an accusation Trump has leveled often at his Democratic predecessors.

The notion that a president can actually shrink or abolish a monument is of questionable legality. Legal experts say that has historically been the role of Congress. Meanwhile, 16 presidents have used the Antiquities Act to create public lands monuments, including some of Colorado’s most exemplary natural treasures: the Great Sand Dunes, Browns Canyon, Chimney Rock and our own Colorado National Monument.

As unsettling as we find the president’s unprecedented action, he’s pushed the envelope so far on this issue that at least we’ll get some legal clarity out of this controversy.

The implications are huge. If Trump’s legal interpretation of the Antiquities Act wins the day, future presidents could alter any monument established by their predecessors. That means the potential to open once-protected areas for all kinds of development.

For now, Trump’s decision on Utah monuments looks like a win for Utah’s Republicans in Congress, fossil fuel companies and anyone who thinks monument designations strangle revenue and limit access. But in a 2017 poll of seven Western states, 80 percent of voters supported keeping protections for existing national monuments — suggesting that a president who mounted a sustained assault on those protections could pay a political price.

It’s going to be up to the courts to determine if the president has the green light to test the public’s appetite for more of this anti-conservation agenda.

The (Grand Junction) Daily Sentinel, Dec. 5

National park fees: Americans shouldn’t be priced out of visiting

The National Park Service has extended the deadline for commenting on a proposal to drastically raise admission fees. Take advantage of the opportunity.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has announced plans to raise the gate fee at some parks (although not Mesa Verde) to $70 from current fees of $25 or $30, especially during peak visitor seasons.

Additional funding is needed to begin addressing maintenance backlogs that have developed through years of underfunding the nation’s parks. The appropriations bill being presented to Congress reflects a larger budget to meet those needs. But the drastic fee hike for some of the most popular parks is likely to be counterproductive for those who love them. Anyone who has studied economics knows that as price rises, demand — in this case, visitation — decreases. Revenue does not increase proportional to price.

At a high-enough price point, it actually will drop. That may enable critics of federal public lands to say, “See? Few people love them enough to contribute to the cost of maintenance.”

Although the next step in this plan surely is a similarly sharp increase in the price of an annual pass, right now, anyone who wants to visit just two of the more expensive parks over the course of a year can save money by purchasing the pass.

America’s national parks are places where visitors can gain education, enjoy recreation and learn about conservation. Those are important national values, with a corresponding national benefit when the experiences that support them are widely accessible.

These places are not Disney resorts. They are owned by the American people, and it makes sense that people should be able to pay a reasonable fee, drive right in and enjoy their public lands.

Recent problems related to the FCC’s proposal to scrap net neutrality have suggested that the mechanism for gathering public comments on federal proposals may be unworkable and produce wildly inaccurate results.

Nonetheless, one of the responsibilities of citizenship is participation, so we urge those who appreciate affordable access to national parks to make an effort to preserve that access for all.

Comment at The new deadline is Dec. 22.

The Durango Herald, Dec. 4

Legal arguments made by Colorado baker fall short

The argument is a specious one — the guaranteed right to free speech should prevent a Christian baker from being compelled by the government to make a wedding cake for a gay couple.

But like any deception, this one falls apart upon close examination, and we hope the U.S. Supreme Court justices see through the initial appeal of such reasoning when they hear oral arguments Tuesday in a Colorado case that has been debated for five years.

This board is among the most passionate advocates of free speech, no matter how ugly the content of the expression. Want to hold a Ku Klux Klan parade? By all means, the government must treat you the same as organizers of the Parade of Lights.

This is a case, however, not about marches and banners or statues and public art, it is a case about goods and services provided to the general public from a storefront open — in theory — to all comers.

That’s where the argument being made by Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, and his attorneys falls apart. Phillips, while certainly an artist creating beautiful works, is primarily a businessman selling his talents to the general public.

In 2012 Phillips refused to bake a cake for the wedding of Charlie Craig and David Mullins. The couple filed a complaint with Colorado’s Civil Rights Commission and Phillips was ordered by an administrative law judge to make cakes for same-sex couples. Phillips argued his cakes were a form of speech and he could not be compelled by the government, under his First Amendment rights, to make a cake that expresses something he is religiously opposed to.

We disagree.

Certainly cakes can be a form of art, and we’d go so far as to say a cake can be expressive.

But on measure we find a cake, even an elaborate wedding cake, to be less an expression than it is a consumable good. Phillips wasn’t being commissioned to use his artistic skills to create a 20-foot-high mural honoring gay pride.

Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act, since 2008, has included sexual orientation in a list of protected classes. It was an important inclusion, given that the gay community historically has suffered discrimination.

Phillips’ refusal to bake a cake for Craig and Mullins proves that the discrimination is real and current and that individuals are in need of such protections when looking for housing, employment or good and services.

We fear a ruling in favor of Phillips would allow those opposed to same-sex marriage to begin refusing services to gay couples. It could also open up other discrimination. A Jewish photographer, claiming free speech, could conceivably refuse to photograph a wedding because the couple is having a Christian ceremony. A florist harboring prejudice after losing a son at war could deny arrangements for the funeral of a man born in Iraq. A dressmaker with Nazi sentiments could refuse to make garments for a woman attending an Anti-Defamation League gala.

Such prejudices are ugly and harmful to our society and laws — whether it’s the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 or one of the many state laws that have been developed across the nation — are important guarantees of the fundamentally American principle of equality.

The Denver Post, Dec. 4

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