THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
BRIEFING BY THE VICE PRESIDENT and SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR BRUCE BABBITT EPA ADMINISTRATOR CAROL BROWNER CEQ CHAIR KATIE MCGINTY The Briefing Room
3:08 P.M. EDT
VICE PRESIDENT GORE: I'm going to ask Secretary Babbitt and Administrator Browner and CEQ Chair McGinty to come up and join me.
I'll make a statement and then they will make statements and we'll respond to questions. But I'm going to have to leave, so at the conclusion of my statement and before Secretary Babbit takes over the microphone to start the other statements, if you have a couple of questions that I can deal with before I leave here, I'll be happy to respond to them. But let me make my statement first.
Q Where are you going?
VICE PRESIDENT GORE: I'm going over to do some live satellite feed, Sarah. Do you want to come? (Laughter.) I liked that story on you, incidentally, that was really nice.
Q Well, thank you very much.
VICE PRESIDENT GORE: You're most welcome.
Today on Earth Day, President Clinton acted to protect an American treasure, our national parks. The National Parks for Tomorrow plan will preserve what is irreplaceable from those who are irresponsible; and it will ensure that for every generation that follows our national parks will be a source of recreation, a source of wonder and a source of national pride. This plan is another example of the Clinton administration's commitment to protecting the environment. Time after time, Bill Clinton has taken on the special interests and stood up for clean air, clean water and our public lands.
On the other side of the political fence the Gingrich/Dole Congress has attempted to tear down over 25 years of bipartisan progress. Where families see parks, the Gingrich/Dole Congress sees parking lots. Now, they will protect some parks, such as Yellowstone. But those are the exceptions, not the rule. They've spelled out 40 specific exceptions to their plan studying the selling off of national treasures.
In fact, incredibly, the party of Lincoln is now willing to part with Lincoln. Can you imagine Abe Lincoln's home in Illinois for sale, Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota for sale, even Abe Lincoln's log cabin in Kentucky for sale? These guys are unbelievable. But all of those consequences could flow from the plan they presented in the Congress, because under their bill these properties could be either closed or sold.
Now, if you listen to them this week, and especially on Earth Day, it may sound like they're singing a different tune. They'll be announcing some pro-environment legislation, they'll be going to zoos, putting snakes around their necks, planting trees. And while I welcome the change, I also issue this warning: Don't be fooled by the same old song and dance. This is the most anti-environment Congress in 220 years of American history. They invited the largest polluters in America to send their lobbyists into the Capitol Building where they gave them office space, held their chairs, gave them fountain pens, and invited them to rewrite our environmental laws.
They rewrote them, all right, providing large increases in the amount of pollution that can be dumped in our air and in our water. President Clinton was waiting with the veto pen. Well, Earth Day isn't just about symbolism. It's not just about planting trees. It's really about planting seeds of responsibility -- the responsibility to protect the world that our children will inherit from us.
President Clinton has accepted that responsibility and has honored this long, bipartisan tradition: clean water and clean air, community right to know, cleaning up Superfund sites, streamlining the EPA and keeping environmental cops on the beat, and today brand new comprehensive steps to protect our parks.
Now, I'll be happy -- if you have a couple of questions before I leave, and then I'm going to turn it over to my colleagues.
Q Mr. Vice President, most of the proposals on the parks that you have here require legislation from Congress. Given what you just said about people who run Congress, why would you think they would do any of these things?
VICE PRESIDENT GORE: Well, first of all, not all of them do require legislation, but for those that do require legislation, we believe that just as you have seen on the minimum wage and on other matters where the overwhelming majority of the American people agree with the President, presidential leadership results in the Congress feeling the political pressure and acting.
Let me hasten to add that there are two or three dozen moderate Republicans in the Congress who have kept alive the flame of bipartisanship where the environment is concerned, and there are a lot of other Republicans who have had a terrible record but don't really feel comfortable being a part of this all-out assault on the environment, and who, as the year wears on, become increasingly anxious to demonstrate to their constituents that they are capable of casting reasonable votes that the people respond to in favor of environmental protection.
So I think there is every reason to anticipate that the President's initiative, unveiled today, on parks will get a good reception in the Congress, and I would predict that it will pass.
Q On a slightly related or a very related subject, can you describe the situation in the 1996 budget negotiations in terms of the environmental riders and the amount of money that you are apart from the Republicans, because that seems to be the major hang-up?
VICE PRESIDENT GORE: If the environmental riders are not removed from the legislation, the President will veto the legislation, period. I don't know how I can make it any plainer than that. The New York Times had a lead editorial today, on Earth Day, making exactly the same point: These riders have to be removed.
You know, it's very interesting. The Gingrich/Dole Congress has compiled this anti-environmental record, and then they start feeling the outrage of their constituents, and they go out and engage in these symbolic activities, like going to zoos -- and I'm all for zoos -- but they participate in these symbolic activities, and then they say, how can anybody think we're anti-environment? But at the very same time, even on the same day, they will sit in negotiations and demand as a price for financing the operations of the government, that all of these extremist, radical anti-environment riders be included in any legislation that is passed.
I said last week that there is a very simple litmus test to determine whether or not their alleged conversion on the environment is real or phony. The litmus test is whether or not they are willing to drop these riders that hurt the environment that are part of the appropriations process. So we will see whether they pass that litmus test or not. If they don't pass that test, the President will veto the bill.
Q Have you made any progress?
VICE PRESIDENT GORE: Really, they haven't made any good faith offers on the riders, not yet.
Q I just wanted to ask you about one of these specific proposals, Mr. Vice President, that obviously would probably draw a lot of attention, and that is the overflights of the Grand Canyon. Does substantial restoration of natural quiet by the end of 12 years, does that mean there would be no such flights or no such flights at anything like the altitude currently there?
VICE PRESIDENT GORE: I'm going to let Secretary Babbitt, our Grand Canyon specialist -- (laughter) -- deal with that when I leave.
My wife, Tipper, and I took our four children down through the Grand Canyon last summer for 12 days, and slept on the ground for 12 nights and it was one of the greatest experiences we ever had in our lives. And I recommend that trip, incidentally, to any of you. We paddled for 225 miles. We did hear a few airplanes. The President made that statement -- got just to that point in his speech today at about the time an airplane came over Great Falls from National Airport.
Secretary Babbitt will follow-up on that.
Q Excuse me, if I could -- did you find that objectionable? I mean, were the airplanes --
VICE PRESIDENT GORE: Oh, I think a lot of people in our national parks, in the Grand Canyon and in some other parks have come to the conclusion that there's a saturation point beyond which it really does interfere with the experience of the park, sure.
Now, is there some kind of reasonable balance? Yes, of course there is, and the Secretary will elaborate on that.
Q Could you tell us what you did think about that article on you on the front page today? Is it a little early?
VICE PRESIDENT GORE: Very much so. And I really don't have any comment on it, except to say you shouldn't take an off the record, private conversation with one friend who doesn't work around here as, you know, an indication of the kind of thing that was implied with it.
My number one objective is to do everything I possibly can to help President Clinton be the best president possible, and he's doing a magnificent job. In the political realm my one and only objective is to see that Bill Clinton is reelected president this year. And I've been working very hard toward that end and that is my only political objective.
Let me take just one more and then I'll have to leave.
Q Is there any room for compromise on the riders, or is it all or nothing? People in the Congress are saying they've made some compromises and dropped some of the protectional --
VICE PRESIDENT GORE: Well, they key saying they have, but they haven't. And we've made our position, and the President has made his position clear on each and every one of them. And if those riders stay in there, then it will be vetoed.
I'm going to turn it over now to Secretary Babbitt. Thank you very much.
Q Did the over flight destroy your experience in the Canyon?
VICE PRESIDENT GORE: Oh, they didn't destroy it, I didn't say that. But, Mr. Secretary, perhaps you could move directly to this question of overflight.
SECRETARY BABBITT: Yes. What was the question? I'd like to just mention a few themes that I think pervade a wide variety of rather specific proposals in the President's park plan.
The underlying issue here, I think, is simply that the love affair that Americans have with their national parks is creating a huge set of management and maintenance and fiscal problems. There are 300 million visits a year to the national park system. That's more than one per every single American citizen. And that enormous demand, which continues to escalate far beyond population increases each year, is putting this park system under a lot of stress.
Now, the first theme that I think is important is this issue of seeing if we can't provide a broader base and a more entrepreneurial and imaginative base of support for the national park system. The reality is that the budget simply, even at an optimistic level, is not going to address this backlog of maintenance, infrastructure, science, resource protection and, very importantly, trying to maintain one of the things that is so unique about national parks -- and that is the experience that people have through the access to a ranger who can explain to their kids what this is all about and provide a real park experience.
Now, what we need to do is recognize the possibilities. I mean, it's incredible the Americans have this love affair with their parks, which are starving for lack of resources. That's behind at least five or six of these proposals. We need authority to, on a selective base, increase fees and keep them in the park. Americans support that. You ask them, do you support fee increases to keep the increase in the park to improve the experience. Well, the answer is almost unanimously, yes.
Concession reform is very important. It's inconceivable that for nearly a century major corporations have been getting monopoly rights in parks to generate massive profits, returning in many cases maybe as little as one percent of gross to the national park system. The concession reform is crucial. The park service needs the ability to enter into cooperative agreements. They don't currently have that authority, to jointly administer parks with state park agencies, to find more entrepreneurial ways of conducting scientific research with state universities, and that kind of thing.
Well, the National Park Foundation was chartered by Congress to continue this entrepreneurial trend. You may remember, several years ago, under the leadership of Lee Iacocca, the Statue of Liberty was refurbished at a cost of several hundred million dollars, raised exclusively in the private sector. There's no reason at all that with the authority from Congress we can't do this kind of thing throughout the system.
I had a look at this last week. I, in a moment of temporary madness, agreed to depart Washington to go up to Harper's Ferry and to invite some of my friends and some of you to walk to C&O Canal from Harper's Ferry, the 65 miles down to Washington. Well, we did it. The weather cooperated. And what was most astonishing was the outpouring of support from communities along the way. We stopped for lunch one day, a high school class came and presented us a check for $1,000. Another high school class showed up and said they were going to devote their final week as seniors to doing volunteer work on the Canal. It was repeated again and again and again.
We've raised more than a million dollars in private contributions for the restoration of that Canal. Montgomery County, in Maryland, has stepped forward with another million dollars. Those kinds of arrangements need to be explicitly authorized by law -- and I think all we need to do is ask the American people and they will respond. There's legislation to allow us to move in a more entrepreneurial way to provide housing for park rangers, by doing conventional kind of financing, like is done out in the real world.
The transportation issue is the second generic issue that I think needs, perhaps, a little bit of highlighting. Just as there are many, many Americans in parks, inevitably there are way too many airplanes and cars impacting and, in many cases, seriously diluting the park experience. Now, the President's directive to me on overflights is quite specific. It's actually a directive to me and Federico Pena, the Secretary of Transportation. It's 60 days for a specific proposal on Grand Canyon. It is a direct request that we proceed toward regulation of overflights in other areas where it's become a problem -- Haleakala, a volcano national park, Rocky Mountain National Park, to name just a few.
The President's plan also directs us to move forward at Yosemite, Zion, and Grand Canyon with proposals which I think mark an important new direction in the national park system, and that is, as I think exemplified most impressively at the South Rim of Grand Canyon, a plan which within the next few years will result in the complete absence of automobiles at the South Rim of Grand Canyon. All cars will be left at the park entrance in a staging area, and the 5 million visitors who come there every year are going to have a chance to see that park and to mingle across the observation point at South Rim in an automobile-free, mass transit driven environment.
Lastly, I would call your attention to the park-specific proposals. The Sterling Forest is an example of a -- of this new cooperative park approach that I have told you about. This is a request to Congress not to fund a national park, but to cooperate with New Jersey and New York in the acquisition of an absolute gem of a green space, an important forest right in the middle of the metro area.
There are wilderness proposals. The wilderness proposals for parks are a way of Congress giving an added layer of protection. They have been neglected. They must be pushed. The Presidio partnership, the expansion of Point Reyes proposal is another example of a new kind of thinking about parks. It says to Congress, let's expand the boundaries of Point Reyes, not for the purpose of fee-simple land acquisition but for the purpose of, on a voluntary basis, taking conservation easements from the existing farms and dairy farms, which are bordering on Point Reyes, in a process which would leave those agricultural enterprises on the boundary of the park -- actually within the park boundary, but would preclude incompatible development. I think that is a very important example of the kinds of new directions that are necessary.
Another example of the park boundary issue is the geothermal proposal for Yellowstone.
Okay, my time is up. I now introduce you to Carol Browner, who will be followed with no introduction, except this one, by Katie McGinty. And then I'll hang around until the sun sets for the last who want to talk.
ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: I just have to say to Bruce, whenever I hear about the great places that you can visit, I think about my own trips to Superfund sites and wastewater treatment facilities. I would have much preferred to be with you, visiting one of our natural treasures, which my family certainly enjoys.
Q May I bring up a point before he goes?
ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: He's not leaving. Let me -- I'll be very brief, and then we're all going to answer questions.
Q When you are on an airplane going to California and back, and the pilot finally gets you to the Grand Canyon and tells you there it is, then you get to see it, maybe that's the only time in your life you're ever going to get to see it. You're glad to see it.
SECRETARY BABBITT: Well, I'll tell you something. I was on one of those flights once, and the pilot said, to your left is the Grand Canyon. And it wasn't the Grand Canyon, and I sent him a note saying -- (laughter).
ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: Very, very briefly, from the EPA perspective: EPA was created 26 years ago in large measure because of the first Earth Day. And Earth Day is an opportunity for us to evaluate how far we have come in terms of protecting the air we breathe, the water we drink, the land on which we live, and the problems that still exist and the challenges ahead.
Protecting our environment really means protecting where we live and how we live. We work in partnership with communities across the country, state, local governments, to do this job of public health and environmental protection. And Earth Day allows us to honor all of those in this country who share our commitment.
Under the President's leadership in the last three and a half years, we have sought to strengthen public health and environmental protections. We have put in place the toughest standards ever for incineration in this country. We have secured the greatest reduction in toxic air pollution, including a 90 percent reduction at chemical plants. We have cleaned up more Superfund sites in 12 years -- in three years than in the first 12 years of the entire program.
We have collected the biggest penalties from polluters, from those who ignore the pollution they put into your air, your water, on your land. We have doubled the number of chemicals that the communities have a right to know. The public's right to know has been honored and expanded.
We have done much of this while under the greatest assault ever on our ability to do our job, to provide these protections, to enforce the standards that we set. It is because of the President, because of his leadership, that Congress has not been able to advance their proposals that would prevent us from doing our job. It is because the President threatened the veto, because he has used the veto, that the reality that the Republican Congress would have us all live in has not become a reality.
Unfortunately, what we see this week is an improvement only in the rhetoric. We don't yet see an improvement in the reality. We don't see proposals to strengthen toxic waste cleanup, to strengthen the clean water protections for our rivers and lakes, to strengthen the drinking water protections that the families of this country want.
EPA grew out of a bipartisan commitment to public health and environmental protections. We would like nothing better than to see that bipartisan commitment reemerge in this Congress so that we can be about doing the job the American people expect.
MS. MCGINTY: I just want to make three very brief points. One, as a previous question alluded to, the Republicans now assert that even if the environmental riders that continue to be on the budget were bad, that they have made enormous strides towards us and have fixed those riders. That is not true. Those riders would still lead to vast clear cuts in the Tongass Rain Forest, for example. Those riders would still cripple EPA's ability to protect wetlands, even as the Republican party says they're for protecting the Everglades. Well, you can't be for the Everglades and against wetlands. The riders are still very much against wetlands.
Those riders still would cripple our ability to protect endangered species, including salmon, which are not only important for the environment, but are an economic mainstay for the Pacific Northwest of our country. And the examples go on and on.
So the truth is that progress has not been made. The Republicans have not made strides towards us on these critical environmental riders that are on the budget, despite their recent assertions to the contrary.
Q How many are left? Excuse me, how many are in there?
MS. MCGINTY: There are scores of riders. There are at least 10, I'd say, that the President has highlighted since last June in statement after statement after statement, and in letters to the Hill as riders that are absolutely unacceptable.
The second thing that you will hear from the Republicans is, well, we've just been misunderstood. And, without putting words in anyone's mouth, I think it's hard to misunderstand words like, EPA is the Gestapo of the government. Or words like, can you think of a single federal regulation that you would keep, not a one. Or words like, the question isn't whether or how we'll close our national parks, the question is only when.
These things are hard to misunderstand. They are the statements and the agenda of a leadership on Capitol Hill that's been determined to turn around not only 25 years of progress in protecting our land and our air and our water, but more than a century of committed American determination to protect our parks and wild places.
The third thing that you will hear is, well, even if we weren't misunderstood before, even if we, in fact, did get it wrong before, we're turning over a completely new leaf now. And as Sherry Boehlert says, it's the moment of the moderates.
Well, the only thing I have to say is, I still wait to see it. When this Congress came back, immediately there was a bill in the House that would turn back 25 years of air and water and land protections. So bad was it, and so loud was the outrage against it, that it had to be pulled from the floor of the House.
Then there was the Farm Bill. And in the end we came out of that fight okay, but there was a strong effort in the House of Representatives to basically repeal the major environmental provisions in the Farm Bill on conservation reserve program and, again, another program that protects wetlands. Very soon -- then, also in the Senate side we saw the Utah Wilderness Bill. That bill, far from turning over a new leaf, would actually take away protections that Utah wilderness has.
And soon, coming to a Senate near you, is perhaps the worst anti-environmental provision, which is a bill by Senator Dole on takings legislation that would virtually make it impossible for the federal government to act effectively to protect the environment or, indeed, any worthy purpose of protecting human health and other kinds of issues that have been very important over the years. It would strip our ability to do that.
So I have yet to see the new agenda, and we're still working hard. What today represents is the President saying once again the environment has been a bipartisan commitment in this country, protecting our parks, protecting our land and air and water is something that we all together are proud of. And what the initiative today is about is getting beyond some of partisanship and painting that vision that truly is worthy of this country and the citizens of this country.
Thanks, and we'll answer questions. Yes.
Q To Secretary Babbitt, a couple of questions with regard to Point Reyes. In past instances I can remember expansion of Redwood National Park, easements were also considered and they were put aside because it turned out you were paying up to 90 percent of what you would pay if you acquired the land outright.
Number one, could you give us an estimate of cost if you acquired the expansion area as against the easement costs you expect? And, number two, why do you even need easements? Couldn't you get a guarantee from the local county not to change the zoning?
SECRETARY BABBITT: Okay. I think the reason that this was not an obvious success in Redwood National Park, in that region, is because the value of the land was the trees. I mean, you know, there was sort of a one-to-one correspondence, there's no differential. I think it's quite different in Point Reyes because those agricultural enterprises, those farms really are a good, solid productive, income-producing farms and that increment of value would be left.
You know, you have to -- I don't want to speak for the county, but the -- but an outright ban on all alternative uses may, in fact, be something the county is not prepared to do; and it might, in fact, raise some Fifth Amendment questions and, all things considered, it's the view of the National Park Service that, on a consensual basis, subject to a willing buyer, a willing seller, a reasonable price, the this is a -- quite apart from all the legalism, a fair way to go.
Q Secretary Babbit, if you could just return to the overflight question and sort of suggest whether the limitations would involve number of flights, times of flights, altitudes of flights, kinds of aircraft? I mean, this is not leading toward --
SECRETARY BABBITT: The answer?
Q To all of them, I suppose.
SECRETARY BABBITT: The answer is all of the above.
Q But not a total ban on overflights by the aircraft?
SECRETARY BABBITT: Well, let's take the Grand Canyon legislation, because that really is the most specific and urgent one. The objective in the Grand Canyon legislation is to meet a goal of natural background. Now, the current FAA regulation expires in 1997. That is the immediate reason for moving forward.
Now, in my talks with Secretary Pena, my suggestion is we can improve considerably on that regulation because it surely does not take us far enough toward that goal. A lot of variables here. Grand Canyon is a big, linear park. You can see an awful lot of Grand Canyon from outside the park boundaries, which in the case of the South Rim happen to be just a couple miles from the rim. You want a real scenic flight over the Grand Canyon, take Scenic Airlines from Las Vegas to South Rim. It never enters the boundaries of the park.
Now, within the boundaries of the park, you are dealing with a lot of variables: altitude, areas, times of day, types of equipment, just an enormous variety of things. I think there is some hope that the engine manufacturers are going to be moving toward -- in view of the kind of markets to developing some really serious technological innovations in terms of engine noise.
Other parks, like Hawaii Volcanoes in Haleakala, you really don't have the staging space that you do. Now, I can't tell whether a ban is appropriate or not, but it is a vastly different kind of situation.
Q Secretary Babbitt, with the exception of the Point Reyes Seashore proposal, aren't most of these proposals been in the hopper for some time? In other words, the fee reform, the concessions reform, the wilderness in the parks, dealing with those. These aren't new proposals. Even the overflight issue has been around for years, and there is a law that requires you to impose the regulations.
SECRETARY BABBITT: Yes, look, I could go through these proposals and debate you on that, but it's simply -- that's not the point of this exercise. The point of this exercise is for the President to step up and say, it is now time to make a focused effort to get these things done. And, you know, I could say to you that the transportation proposal at South Rim is an entirely new initiative. Well, in fact, it has been working its way through the National Park Service for some time now. The important thing is to get some movement along this spectrum of issues.
Q Back to the overflights. Can you tell us what has changed? I mean, is the situation deteriorating? There are regulations in place, and from my understanding, the number of complaints about overflight noise at the Canyon has dropped in recent years.
SECRETARY BABBITT: The situation is deteriorating throughout the entire national park system, with the exception of Grand Canyon, where there has in fact been some progress as the result of the legislation. But I can tell you that it doesn't get anywhere close to the statutory goal. I was out at South Rim last year, and I'll tell you something, standing at Hermit's Rest on South Rim, inside a national park -- this was at midday -- there was more noise than there is over my house in the flight path to National Airport. And somehow I don't think that's an adequate measure of what we expect in a national park.
Q For Director Browner, the Republicans have been saying for a week now that your EPA Earth Day celebrations around the country are politically targeted at vulnerable Republican candidates, especially House freshman. How, specifically, do you respond to that?
ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: Well, I think the Republicans have been accusing us of "politicizing" Earth Day. Let's remember who launched this concerted, orchestrated assault on our ability to do our job. It was the Republicans in Congress. They thought that perhaps environmental protection was no longer necessary, the air was clean enough, the water safe enough.
Every single Earth Day since EPA was created, we have honored local citizens, communities doing their part to protect the health of their children, the health of their environment. That is what we are doing this year. We are participating in events across the country organized by schools, universities, communities, honoring business people, citizens, children.
In no way have we sought to politicize Earth Day. It was the Republicans. And quite frankly, it's the American people who reject this effort on the part of the Republicans.
Q Are there various technical standards defining substantial restoration of natural quiet? I mean, are there a whole bunch of things or is it kind of a layman's understanding of that term?
SECRETARY BABBITT: No, there are, as in every other facet of life, volumes -- (laughter) -- of detailed standards. Now, I know it when I hear it. And it's pretty simple. I would say that at South Rim of Grand Canyon, if on a quiet summer day I can hear the rustle of the wind in the Ponderosa pines, that is my criterion. But, unfortunately, that is not a legally acceptable definition. So we have guys out there with decibel meters, scientists with decibel meters actually measuring all this stuff.
Q What is your take on the Presidio legislation right now? And do you see that as a model for other parks?
SECRETARY BABBITT: The Presidio legislation, I think is sui generis, for this reason: When our good friend Phil Burton saw that opportunity, he saw a one-in-a-kind situation where we were taking an enormous historic district, not just a building or two, but a large slice, and a very important slice, of San Francisco and putting it into the system.
This administration has supported the trust concept because the National Park Service is not -- was not founded or designed to be in the commercial real estate business in the middle of San Francisco, so the trust concept is correct.
Now, that legislation is a must. The remaining issues, I think, are about the allocation of responsibilities between the Presidio Trust, the National Park Service, and there are still a variety of remaining issues.
The concept is illustrative, because as I was walking down the C&O Canal last week, there are a couple hundred historic buildings on that canal. I think a third of them could in fact be leased out for bread and breakfast places, for park-compatible things. I go up to Swain's Boat House there that is being maintained and lived in by a private concessioner. We undeniably need to do more of that.
Q Will the President be supporting any new national park units, for instance, the Tall Grass Prairie in Kansas?
SECRETARY BABBITT: Well, we're continually discussing those kinds of things. There are those who say -- well, there are two schools of thought in Congress. The mainstream seems to be we need to start closing up parks and abolishing them, for example, the Mojave unit of the national park system. There are others who say, well, we just ought to draw a line and stop. If we did that, the Martin Luther King National Historic Site in Atlanta would not exist if we had drawn a line under the system 30 or 40 years ago.
There are always changing perspectives on the American landscape. Our relationship to this land changes not only as a function of history, but as a function of time. If you'd drawn a line on the national park system in 1900, it would have been 99 percent snow-covered mountains with tall timber. Why? Because that was the aesthetic of the time. It was a sort of European driven view of landscape which says the sublime is the closest you can find to the Alps -- a romantic, European view of the scenery.
American deserts have not been well represented in the national park system. They are, in fact, the most unique of American and rural landscapes, but they weren't viewed as park material. And that's, of course, the great importance of the California Desert Protection Act last year. It had finally found its time.
That process will continue. The Tall Grass Prairie proposal is a very important example of that. America moved West straight across the Great Plains in pursuit of snow-covered mountains and never looked twice at what is probably the richest biotic region of the entire country. The Interior Department has supported and continues to support the establishment of the Tall Grass Prairie.
To be specific in response to your question, we have been actively involved for the last couple of years in the discussions over the Z Bar Ranch. I have personally toured the property and I'm -- Senator Kassebaum has been really enormously constructive and helpful, and I'm hopeful that we can get something.
MS. MCGINTY: If I could just add one thing to that. Senator Kerry also is leading the charge to protect the Boston Harbor and to set up a Boston Harbor series of parks. And we are working very closely with him on that also and appreciative of his leadership on protecting Boston Harbor.
Q How much of a fee increase should you be -- should the American public accept at parks? And would you recommend a veto of the House bill that passed the Resources Committee recently and why?
SECRETARY BABBITT: I think we've got a good piece of momentum going on this fee issue right now, and I'm not going to stand up here and recommend anything, except that we continue talking, because I think we've got some momentum going on.
Now, your question is, how much should be kept in the parks?
Q Well, how much of a fee increase do you think -- right now, you can go into a park for $4 or $5 a carload, I believe, in many parks. What kind of a fee increase would you suggest is appropriate?
SECRETARY BABBITT: Well, the answer is, it's site-specific. The answer for the Washington Monument is zero. The answer for Independence Hall in Philadelphia hall is zero. The answer for Gateway, Cuyahoga, Chattahootchie, for national recreation areas, I think would be quite different from destination parks. I think that the fee increases are most appropriate in destination parks where, in fact, the fee is a relatively small component of the expenditure cluster that takes you to that national park.
I think we're going to be conservative in the use of fee authority. We're not going to be as conservative as the past. I mean, the entrance fee today at Yellowstone National Park is less than it was in 1920. Now, come on. Roger Kennedy points out that you can buy a video of Yellowstone National Park that costs two or three or four times the admission fee.
Have you ever looked at the admission fees to Disney World or Disneyland? I don't know -- what's Disney World now? Surely, this is a user group for Disney World -- (laughter) -- $35, $40, just to get in -- $35, just on the way in.
I'll take a couple of more, then I'll stick around if there are individual ones or anything.
Q For any of the three of you who can shed light on this subject, what did the Vice President mean when he said that the Republican congressional leaders could make symbolic actions on Earth Day, but on the very same day sit in negotiations and demand these very same riders be included? Were there negotiations today or over the weekend, and if so, who participated in them and who insisted on which riders?
SECRETARY BABBITT: Katie McGinty. (Laughter.)
MS. MCGINTY: The Vice President's statement was referring to the negotiations that are underway. Now, these discussions have been happening without pause for the last week, since the Congress returned from their Easter recess. But the progress is slow. There is still an insistence on their part to keep those riders in. There's still an insistence on the President's part that the environmental riders need to be dropped. And we just continue to remain engaged in that discussion and, hopefully, on this Earth Day, there will be a breakthrough and we'll be able to make some genuine progress.
Q When is the expiration?
MS. MCGINTY: Wednesday night is when the current CR expires.
Q If we could go back to the Grand Canyon, just very briefly, do you support a total ban of overflights? Is that practical, and what sort of differences still remain between FAA and the park services on that issue?
SECRETARY BABBITT: I do not advocate a total ban. I believe that what we've got to do is take -- the FAA -- look, what can I say? The FAA is under the jurisdiction of the Department of Transportation, but they have not been notably cooperative across the years on these issues.
I'm hopeful that we can get in close this time and, with the help of the Vice President and this administration, that we can get a little more creativity and a little more understanding of the imperative of moving toward that legislative goal. I don't think it -- now, as I said, there may well be parks where a complete ban is the only possible solution. Grand Canyon is 300 miles long and, in some cases, 10 or 12 miles wide. It presents a really interesting spatial platform along which to work these issues, and in that context I'm not prepared to say that a ban is necessary. Obviously, you can't have a complete ban; you know, there are commercial airlines in this country. Just by way of illustrating the margins that we can work in.
I thought somebody -- I'll wrap this up -- I thought I heard somebody ask me a question about concessions, and the answer to that question -- (laughter) -- the answer to that question is that this administration strongly supports the bipartisan Bennett-Bumpers bill in the Senate. This is an extremely important issue. And the House versions of this legislation are kind of like those sort of fake-front old western towns out in the west -- it looks like concession reform, but if you walk around and look at the other side, it's a fake. And the House versions would simply entrench the concessioners and destroy the whole idea of competition.
On the other hand, the Senate bill is really moving into the right direction. Okay, thank you very much.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 3:52 P.M. EDT