In the midst of a four-state natural-resources trip in the West, House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) said that an aerial tour of Idaho's forested areas would provide a useful reference for future land-use debates in Congress (Quane Kenyon, AP/Idaho Falls Post Register, 8/29).
In Idaho on 8/28 to study forest and logging issues, Gingrich said the West suffers from "too much micromanagement" from the East and "bureaucratic arrogance" from the feds. The speaker praised Idaho Sen. Dirk Kempthorne's (R-ID) efforts to revise the Endangered Species Act, and said an ESA rewrite bill is "likely" to clear Congress next year (Rocky Barker, Boise Idaho Statesman, 8/29).
In Wyoming on 8/29, Gingrich said the image of the West conveyed by environmental groups -- of resource abuses on public lands, for example -- hasn't matched what he's observed during the tour. House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-TX) lauded Wyoming for achieving a thriving economy without sacrificing its natural resources (AP/Billings Gazette, 8/30).
The four-state tour ended on 8/30 at Yellowstone National Park, where sessions to discuss park management were "stripped at the last minute so the tired representatives could simply enjoy the park's offerings." Still, Gingrich and Rep. Rick Hill (R-MT) suggested one solution to fund infrastructure improvements to the national park system: bonds backed by future park fees (Erin Billings, Billings Gazette, 9/1).
Environmentalists complained that the tour by Gingrich, DeLay, and other Republicans and their staffs was nothing more than a "lobbying junket for corporate users of public lands." Environmentalist Jim Hansen of the United Vision for Idaho: "If lobbyists want to pay for members of Congress to go on summer vacations, they shouldn't avoid congressional rules by calling it educational" (Kenyon, AP/Idaho Falls Post Register).