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CAMPAIGN 2000

Bush Charges National Parks Are 'Crumbling' From Neglect

September 14, 2000|MICHAEL FINNEGAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MONROE, Wash. — Texas Gov. George W. Bush on Wednesday accused the Clinton administration of failing to maintain the national parks and pledged $5 billion to "reverse the neglect."

The Republican presidential nominee, whose environmental record in Texas has been a favorite target for Democrats, said the neglect of Yellowstone, Glacier and the 53 other national parks had left them "at the breaking point."

"Under this administration, the parks are in worse shape than ever before," Bush charged at a campaign stop on the grassy banks of the Skykomish River outside Seattle.

Bush's effort to seize some high ground on the environment, Al Gore's signature issue, came on the first of three days of campaign stops on the West Coast.

From Washington, where the candidates are in a close race, Bush flew to California, where polls show the state leaning strongly toward Gore, the Democratic nominee. His first stop was a rally in the Little Saigon area of Westminster. His appearance with a crowd of Asian Americans is to be followed today and Friday by events with Latinos and African Americans as he plays up his theme of an "inclusive" Republican Party.

"Part of making sure we win California is to understand the wonderful fabric of this state, that this is a state of many faces and of many cultures," Bush shouted to about 1,000 cheering supporters at the Asian Garden Mall. "As the next president of the United States, I say we welcome all cultures into the great land called America."

In California, one of Bush's main goals is to raise money for the Republican Party. At fund-raisers in Irvine and Newport Beach on Wednesday night, he was expected to yield $1 million for the party's state and national committees.

But while in Washington, Bush honed in on the environment, an issue that polls show is important to the moderates whose votes he and Gore are battling to win.

Bush said raw sewage flows into the lakes of Yellowstone in Wyoming. At Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania, he said, rain drips through leaky roofs of park buildings onto Civil War relics. At Chaco Cultural National Historical Park in New Mexico, Anasazi stone structures are collapsing.

"For eight years, this administration has talked of environmentalism while our national parks are crumbling," Bush said.

And while neglecting the parks, President Clinton was adding millions of acres to the nation's vast stretches of protected wilderness, he said. Bush's running mate, Dick Cheney, said last month that Bush would review Clinton's designations of national monuments to decide whether to rescind any of them.

Bush also accused the administration of proposing to spend $180 million on park maintenance this year, a 22% drop from last year.

Kym Spell, a Gore spokeswoman, said that, in fact, the administration has proposed keeping spending at the same level as last year. For the first time, she said, some of the maintenance money will come from entrance fees paid by park visitors, so a Park Service budget does not fully reflect the funds destined for the parks.

Bush, according to Spell, ignored that revenue to create the false impression of a spending cut. "It's laughable that Bush would attempt to reinvent himself as an environmentalist."

Overall, the National Park Service budget has grown 61% since President Clinton took office, Spell said, and the administration has created 13 national parks. And Gore, unlike Bush, supports a ban on drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, she said.

Bush also stepped into a major controversy in the Northwest, hammering Gore for not taking a position on whether dams should be breached to protect spawning grounds for endangered salmon. He promised $20 million to restore salmon runs.

"We do not need to breach the dams to save the salmon, and should I become the president, we won't," Bush said. "These dams are vital to jobs and agriculture in the Pacific Northwest."

As for Gore's refusal to take a position, he said, "I think you deserve an answer. I think you need to know where he stands on this important environmental issue."

Spell said Gore was "committed to saving and restoring salmon stocks" but wanted to work out a solution in a "summit" meeting of landowners, environmentalists, power companies and others.

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