POLITICS: PennAve

Green groups focus on 2014 elections

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Congress,Interior,Sierra Club,2014 Elections,Campaigns,PennAve,Energy and Environment,Zack Colman,Sally Jewell,Magazine

Environmental groups are planning to target some lawmakers during the 2014 midterm campaigns for actions they say contributed to the 16-day federal government shutdown that shuttered national parks.

The organizations will look to pressure lawmakers into maintaining parks funding during the appropriations process this spring after many of them blasted the Obama administration during the shutdown.

"No amount of political spin will dispute that Congress shut down our parks when they shut down the federal government," said Athan Manuel, director of the Sierra Club's lands protection program.

Many conservative lawmakers claimed President Obama shuttered parks as a political stunt. But most Americans blamed House Republicans.

The shutdown led to the furlough of roughly 16,000 National Park Service employees at an estimated loss of $76 million per day to local communities, the Interior Department said. Some states stepped in to fund the parks during the shutdown.

Fifty-seven percent of Americans blamed Congress for the closures, according to a Hart Research Associates poll conducted for left-leaning think tank Center for American Progress.

That polling won't be fresh come November, admitted Andy Buchsbaum, interim director of the National Wildlife Federation's political action committee.

Still, he argued the closures "changed the playing field for elections" and policy, particularly for the budget. The $1.1 trillion fiscal 2014 spending deal Congress approved included $2.6 billion for the National Park Service, a $28.5 million increase from fiscal 2013.

"We're not just looking for votes. We're looking for leadership on both sides of the aisle, and we're beginning to see it," he said. "We're seeing it in the Appropriations Committee, we're seeing it in the farm bill and we're seeing it in other places as well."

Buchsbaum said his group will look to support conservatives and liberals. An initiative from Environmental Defense Action Fund, the Environmental Defense Fund's political arm, is looking to back Republican candidates.

"There is a recognition that not being part of the conversation has left people unable to advance the sort of free-market, public-private partnership model that is part of the Republican Party toolkit," said Tony Kreindler, Environmental Defense Fund spokesman. "There are a lot of conservatives who think being better on conservation and the environment is good for the party."

The focus on parks comes as Obama and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell have pledged to protect more wilderness if Congress doesn't. Prime candidates include two spots Jewell visited in recent weeks -- Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks near Las Cruces, N.M., and a swath of the Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands in central California.

The Obama administration has said it would use the Antiquities Act to protect such areas if there is considerable grassroots support. Interior spokeswoman Jessica Kershaw told the Washington Examiner that areas where congressional delegations have pushed protection bills -- such as Chicago's historic Pullman neighborhood -- are candidates for action.

Green groups say such designations could provide a boost to incumbents.

One such example is Browns Canyon, along the Arkansas River in Colorado. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., who is facing re-election, has pushed for national monument status for the canyon in the conservative-leaning area of the state.

"While I think you could see that one being elevated because Colorado is a key state because of presidential politics, and overall Senate electoral politics, it's one that's really ripe," said Bentley Johnson, legislative representative for the National Wildlife Federation's public lands campaign.

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