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BNSF bombs, you pay

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Burlington Northern Santa Fe’s (BNSF) proposal to bomb the slopes of Glacier National Park (GNP) in order to control avalanches has irked more than a few environmentalists and park supporters. But a bill that would have federal subsidies pay for it has drawn the ire of a larger group, including the Bush administration.

In July, the Federal Land Recreational Visitor Protection Act, which allocates $75 million in grants toward avalanche control, passed as part of a Senate unanimous consent agenda. It is now before a House committee.

Language in the bill specifically allows money to be granted to “avalanche artillery users.”

The bill, according to an Oct. 1 Washington Post article, was written in part “by an avalanche expert who is a paid consultant to BNSF.”

The park is set to release a draft environmental impact statement on BNSF’s avalanche control request this month.

Local activists, including Steve Thompson, Glacier program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association, say that rather than bombing on the government dime, BNSF should pay to repair and expand snow sheds, which have protected railroad tracks in the past without impacting the park’s environment.

“Their reason not to [use snow sheds] is that it’s too expensive,” Thompson says. “If they can get the government to pay them to bomb Glacier, so much the better for BNSF.”

The irony in all this, Thompson notes, is that at a time when federal funding for national parks is being cut, the government is considering the possibility of paying to bomb them.

Deputy Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment David Tenny, who spoke to House members on behalf of the Bush administration, echoed Thompson’s frustration.

“At a time when we are giving priority to reducing the backlog of maintenance on National Forest System lands,” Tenny told House members, “we cannot afford to take on the new funding responsibilities under this grants program.”

Tom Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste, a nonpartisan government watchdog group, says this is just the type of waste his group fights.

“They haven’t replaced the snow sheds, and now they want a handout? This is a good example of corporate welfare,” Schatz says.

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