After Months of Administration Silence, Chair Grijalva and Vice Chair Haaland Lead Letter With House Democrats Seeking Documents on Park Service Reopening Health Policies
Washington, D.C. – Natural Resources Committee Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Vice Chair Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) led a letter signed by six House Democrats today seeking long overdue information from Interior Secretary David Bernhardt about the National Park Service’s (NPS) failure to consistently enforce mask-wearing or social distancing standards as it reopens sites around the country amidst the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The letter follows one Grijalva and 11 other Democratic members of the Natural Resources Committee sent Bernhardt on April 27 seeking information about how the Department of the Interior (DOI) would implement the then-recently introduced April 16 presidential Opening Up America Again guidelines.
As lawmakers point out today, Bernhardt ignored the April letter, underscoring the administration’s chronic lack of interest in public or employee health. Today’s letter comes less than a month after the New York Times reported that ongoing outbreaks are threatening the tourist season at often heavily trafficked national parks.
The issue is especially acute in states like Florida, where Everglades National Park – which is now fully open to the public – typically attracts approximately 1 million visitors each year. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has been widely criticized for confusing and badly implemented health directives, and the state has more than 550,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus with no end or reversal in sight.
The full letter can be viewed at https://bit.ly/3iPWZ2j, was signed by Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-N.Y.), Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.) Rep. Anthony Brown (D-Md.), Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García (D-Ill.) and Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.). The lawmakers write:
Despite NPS’s own policy to “ensure expansions of public access are considerate of State and local health guidance,” the agency is not requiring masks or enforcing social distancing at units located within states or localities with a mandatory mask requirement. From the Independence National Historical Park in Pennsylvania, where there is a statewide order requiring face coverings in any indoor location open to the public, to the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area in Kentucky, where masks are required in public places, conflicting guidance between NPS-governed areas and localities that require masks threatens the safety of park employees, visitors, and those who live closest to our public lands.
The lawmakers ask Bernhardt to document how DOI plans to comply with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and to explain whether NPS plans to purchase and distribute personally protective equipment to employees, among other issues.