Republican presidential aspirant John McCain yesterday promised a "conservative approach to conservation," invoking the memory of Theodore Roosevelt as creator of the national park system and a model for a Republican approach to the environment.
In a campaign appearance in New Hampshire, McCain promised as president to "revitalize" the parks system, which he said faces a shortfall of $5 billion needed for capital improvements.
The Arizona senator said he would eliminate that shortfall by dedicating to the park system the $800 million in disputed oil lease revenue awarded to the federal government in a recent legal dispute with the state of Alaska and issuing "TR Bonds," named for the former president.
McCain said he would authorize the Interior Department to contract with private fund-raising organizations to issue the taxable bonds, which would be secured by a portion of the revenue generated at national parks each year.
McCain also attacked the Clinton administration's policy of using executive orders to designate certain lands as off-limits to commercial development.
McCain gave his remarks near the White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire. Tens of thousands of acres in the White Mountains would become off-limits to new road construction under the Forest Service's proposed "roadless" policy intended to protect about 40 million acres of national forests from logging and other commercial activity.
It is a hot issue in New Hampshire--site of the vital leadoff presidential primary Feb. 1--where many residents who make their living through logging are used to local control of forest lands.
McCain said that as president he would revoke all of Clinton's executive orders setting aside lands and would insist on local input in all land management decisions. McCain's campaign acknowledged that stance would conflict with Theodore Roosevelt's record: As president, Roosevelt used an executive order to create the Pinnacles National Monument in California, which Clinton said last week he intends to increase by some 8,000 acres next year.
Dan Weiss, political director of the Sierra Club, offered a mixed reaction to McCain's speech yesterday. "At least he's talking about protecting the environment. Unfortunately, in part of his speech, he opposed the biggest public land protection effort in the last 20 years," Weiss said, referring to the roadless forest proposal.
CAPTION: During a campaign stop in Berlin, N.H., Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) listens as Margaret Hill explains how she likes a candidate with a short temper.