Veterans, disabled groups rankled by Zinke proposal to increase park fees

Veterans, disabled groups rankled by Zinke proposal to increase park fees
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Groups representing thousands of veterans, the elderly and the disabled are criticizing Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeOvernight Energy: Senate eyes nixing 'forever chemicals' fix from defense bill | Former Obama EPA chief named CEO of green group | Senate reviews Interior, FERC nominees criticized on ethics Senate reviews Interior, FERC nominees criticized on ethics Overnight Energy: Perry to step down as Energy secretary | Future of big-game hunting council up in the air | Dems lose vote against EPA power plant rule MORE's recent comments suggesting national parks should increase entrance fees because too many people get in for free.

He specifically mentioned veterans and disabled people in his comments.

The Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA), American Veterans, Vet Voice Foundation and others issued statements this week criticizing Zinke's comments made at a congressional hearing Tuesday. 

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"Secretary Zinke’s rationale to steeply increase the entrance fees for others, because disabled veterans and active-duty military get in for free, is a small-minded and mean-spirited jab that pits some citizens against others. I believe that we, as a nation, are more inclusive and compassionate than this," VVA President John Rowan said in a statement.

Speaking in front of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Zinke told the senators, "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."

He added: "So, we're looking at ways to make sure we have more revenue in the front door of our parks themselves."

Currently, active military members and those with permanent disabilities can receive a free annual pass, but Zinke assured the Senate committee that he would not impose new fees on them.

A statement from the National Association for Disabled People called Zinke's comment's "hurtful."

"To blame a fee hike on admission to the most visited national parks on veterans, people with disabilities and the elderly is uninformed, hurtful, and frankly unconscionable. Collectively our national parks can be seen 'as cumulative expressions of a single national heritage,'" the groups said in a statement.

Zinke was assailed for the comments during a second testimony he gave Thursday in front of the House Natural Resources Committee.

Ranking Member Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) submitted the various statements from veterans and disabled persons groups to the record.

Rep. Anthony BrownAnthony Gregory BrownSunday Show Preview: Trump's allies and administration defend decision on Syria A dozen House Democrats call on EU ambassador to resign amid Ukraine scandal Assault weapons ban picks up steam in Congress MORE (D-Md.) said he was concerned by Zinke's previous statement and asked the Interior chief to provide official numbers of carloads coming through national parks that didn't pay through the fee waiver. Zinke said that data was not tracked.

"I'm concerned to hear that they come in from the carloads, yet we don’t track the carloads — I’m concerned particularly in that you don’t have the count," said Brown.

Zinke added that presently Interior had no plans to change the fee structure for veterans.

The National Park Service currently charges between $25 and $30 for a vehicle fee at the country’s busiest national parks, like Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Yosemite and Zion.

Zinke’s proposal would raise that fee to $70 per car. He is also looking at possibly charging each individual an entrance fee rather than having visitors pay per car.