Thursday September 20th, 2018 10:14PM

Zinke defends plan to raise park fees amid flap over travel

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

WASHINGTON (AP) — Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke bristled Tuesday under questioning by Democrats about his travel spending as the Trump administration seeks deep cuts to conservation programs and fee increases at national parks.

Zinke testified before a Senate committee about the agency's proposed $11.7 billion budget for 2019.

He has proposed doubling entry fees during peak seasons at some of the nation's most popular national parks to help make up for an $11 billion backlog in needed maintenance. Meanwhile, an Interior advisory committee has proposed cutting royalty fees paid by energy companies to drill for oil and natural gas in federal waters.

The former Navy SEAL flashed with anger when the Energy and Natural Resources Committee's ranking Democrat pressed him on whether he could justify increasing access fees for working Americans when he has been spending taxpayer money on chartered airplane flights. Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington asked Zinke if it was a mistake for him to spend $12,375 on a late-night trip in June from Las Vegas to his home state of Montana on a private jet.

"Well, first, insults and innuendos are misleading. I never took a private jet anywhere," Zinke said, adding that all three flights he had taken on private planes as secretary were on aircraft driven by propellers, not jet engines.

Zinke also referenced a report last week by The Associated Press that the Interior Department is spending nearly $139,000 to upgrade three sets of double doors in his office at the agency's headquarters.

"I resent the fact of your insults, I resent the fact they're misleading, I resent the fact of the doors," Zinke said to Cantwell, the tone of his voice growing sharp. "And I'll go through line by line. ... To allege that it's a private jet is inappropriate, ma'am."

Zinke is one of several members of President Donald Trump's Cabinet who have been under intense scrutiny for spending on travel and other expenses that critics deemed questionable. Records show he also spent more than $53,000 on three helicopter trips last summer, including one that allowed him to return to Washington in time to take a horseback ride with Vice President Mike Pence.

Zinke has previously derided the flap over his pricey flights as "a little BS" and pointed to flights taken by former Interior Secretary Sally Jewell during the Obama administration.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., told Zinke he has fallen far short of his self-professed role model, Theodore Roosevelt, a renowned conservationist who protected about 230 million acres of public lands. By contrast, Zinke "pushed the largest reduction of ... treasured public lands in American history," proposed opening most of America's coasts to offshore oil drilling and "played a shell game" with wildfire budgeting during the most expensive wildfire season in U.S. history, Wyden said.

Wyden, who has served in Congress for nearly four decades, called his vote to confirm Zinke "one of the biggest regrets of my time in public service."

Interior's inspector general is investigating Zinke's travel and is expected to issue a report within a few weeks.

It is not the first time Zinke has faced questions over his travel spending. A 1999 report by the Navy faulted Zinke for improper travel expenses submitted for two flights to Montana while he was an officer, including one for which he reimbursed the Navy for $211.

Zinke told The Associated Press in 2014 that the travel disputes occurred because his commanding officer disagreed with his belief that Montana should be used for SEAL training.

At Tuesday's hearing, Zinke also defended proposed increases to national park entrance fees and downplayed the possibility of oil and gas exploration off the Pacific coast, where officials in California, Oregon and Washington are adamantly opposed.

The coasts of Oregon and Washington and most of California have "no known resources of any weight," Zinke said.

Likewise, Maine has little recoverable oil and gas off its coast, Zinke said.

Zinke's proposal to open 90 percent of the nation's offshore reserves to development has sparked widespread opposition along the East and West coasts.

Zinke's plan to charge $70 per vehicle at some of the busiest national parks — including Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Yosemite and Zion — also has drawn fierce opposition. Currently, the Park Service charges entry fees of $25 or $30 per vehicle.

"When you give discounted or free passes to elderly, fourth graders, veterans, disabled, and you do it by the carload, there's not a whole lot of people who actually pay at our front door," Zinke said. "So, we're looking at ways to make sure we have more revenue in the front door of our parks themselves."

The Park Service increased the cost of a lifetime pass for seniors last year from $10 to $80. An annual pass costs non-seniors $80, an amount Zinke called "the greatest bargain in America."

"I just took my kids to the theater, and after paying the ticket to the theater and having popcorn, it's more than $80," said Zinke, who according to his financial disclosure statements has personal assets worth between $1.8 million and $2.8 million.

___

Follow AP environmental writer Michael Biesecker at http://twitter.com/mbieseck and Matthew Daly at http://twitter.com/MatthewDalyWDC

  • Associated Categories: Associated Press (AP), AP National News, AP Online National News, Top General short headlines, AP Online Headlines - Washington, AP Online Congress News, AP Business, AP Business - Industries, AP Business - Utilities, AP Business - Personal Finance
© Copyright 2018 AccessWDUN.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Driver killed, Texas students hurt in Disney trip bus plunge
A bus carrying high school band members home to Texas from a trip to Disney World plunged into a ravine before dawn Tuesday in Alabama, killing the driver and injuring many passengers
4:33PM ( 9 minutes ago )
The Latest: Power outages mount across the Northeast
Power outage totals from a Northeastern storm have climbed to more than 250,000 just in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut.
4:28PM ( 14 minutes ago )
The Latest: Trump: 'Great relationship' with Mexico's leader
President Donald Trump says he has a "great relationship" with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto
4:22PM ( 19 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
The Latest: Trump inspects designs for stalled border wall
President Donald Trump is inspecting prototypes on display in California for his stalled border wall
3:52PM ( 50 minutes ago )
Trump examines prototypes for border wall amid protests
President Donald Trump is eagerly inspecting prototypes on display in California for his "big beautiful border wall" amid protests and growing tensions between his administration and the state over immigration enforcement
3:48PM ( 54 minutes ago )
Anti-wall crowd shouts at border crossing before Trump visit
Dozens of demonstrators protested President Donald Trump's proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall by shouting and holding signs at the busiest U.S. border crossing
3:47PM ( 55 minutes ago )
AP Online Headlines - Washington
The Latest: Tillerson says he paved way on North Korea
Departing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says his department "exceeded the expectations of almost everyone" on North Korea
2:48PM ( 1 hour ago )
The Latest: Trump, May agree on consequences for poison use
President Donald Trump says Russia must provide "unambiguous answers" on how a Russian-developed poison was used in England against a former Russian military intelligence officer who spied for Britain
2:32PM ( 2 hours ago )
The Latest: UK says Trump pledged support in ex-spy case
Britain says U.S. President Donald Trump has assured Prime Minister Theresa May that the U.S. is "with the U.K. all the way" and said Russia must provide clear answers about the nerve-agent poisoning of a former spy
2:19PM ( 2 hours ago )
AP Online Congress News
NFL promotes Maryann Turcke to chief operating officer
Maryann Turcke promoted to COO, becoming highest-ranking woman at NFL offices
3:33PM ( 1 hour ago )
The Latest: Travelers hard to find at Boston's Logan Airport
The terminals are mostly empty at Boston's Logan International Airport at the height of the winter storm, with security workers and cleaning crews outnumbering passengers
3:22PM ( 1 hour ago )
Stocks sink as technology rally fades; Qualcomm drops
U.S. stocks are falling as technology companies give up an early gain.
2:53PM ( 1 hour ago )
AP Business
Southeast Asian ride-hailing app Grab expands into lending
Southeast Asian ride hailing app Grab said it is expanding into financial services in partnership with a Japanese credit card company, hoping to offer credit to millions of people without bank accounts
5:35AM ( 11 hours ago )
China merges bank, insurance regulators to tackle risk
China plans to merge its banking and insurance regulators into a more powerful agency to control scandal-plagued finance industries that are struggling with debt
2:10AM ( 14 hours ago )
Ag Department kills animal welfare rule for organic meat
The Trump administration is withdrawing a federal rule that would have required organic meat and egg producers to abide by stricter animal welfare standards
7:17PM ( 21 hours ago )
AP Business - Industries
Trump: 'Steel and business' at stake in House election
President Donald Trump is invoking "steel and business" as he and his son make a final push to sway Pennsylvania voters in a special House election.
1:05PM ( 1 day ago )
In tight House race, Republican leans on Trump and his base
President Donald Trump is invoking "steel and business" as he and his son make a final push to sway voters in a special election for a Pennsylvania House seat.
12:14PM ( 1 day ago )
APNewsBreak: Trump Jr., donor have longtime undisclosed ties
Records show Donald Trump Jr. and a hedge fund manager who helped raise millions for the Trump campaign have a business relationship that hasn't been disclosed
11:57AM ( 1 day ago )
AP Business - Utilities
US sets new record for censoring, withholding gov't files
The government censored and withheld federal records sought by citizens, journalists and others more regularly last year than at any point in the past decade, according to an Associated Press analysis of new U.S. data
1:44PM ( 1 day ago )
How to find 'advice-only' financial advisers
You can find fee-only financial planners through several adviser networks and associations
9:56AM ( 1 day ago )
Trump promising consumers digital-age health care approach
Smartphone app, more access to online cost comparisons among consumer-friendly changes on health care promised by Trump administration
12:10AM ( 1 day ago )
AP Business - Personal Finance
Driver killed, Texas students hurt in Disney trip bus plunge
A bus carrying high school band members home to Texas from a trip to Disney World plunged into a ravine before dawn Tuesday in Alabama, killing the driver and injuring many passengers
4:33PM ( 9 minutes ago )
The Latest: Trump: 'Great relationship' with Mexico's leader
President Donald Trump says he has a "great relationship" with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto
4:22PM ( 19 minutes ago )
Egyptian authorities call on citizens to report on the media
Egyptian authorities call on citizens to report on the media in latest effort to silence criticism ahead of election
4:21PM ( 21 minutes ago )
Former aide to Gov. Cuomo convicted in bribery case
A former top-aide to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been convicted of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes.
4:17PM ( 25 minutes ago )
The Latest: Trump criticizes California governor, tax system
President Donald Trump is resuming his feud with the state of California, criticizing the governor, its immigrant protections and the state's tax system
4:14PM ( 28 minutes ago )