Trump Cabinet secretary blames park fee hikes on veterans and disabled

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke had the gall to blame free passes for visitors who are "elderly, fourth graders, veterans, disabled" for increased admission prices.

Last year, the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced plans to nearly triple the admission price of national parks, from $25 to $70.

More than 40 million people visit California’s 28 national parks each year, bringing more than $2 billion of economic benefit to the state, according to the National Park Service.

In Zinke’s testimony to a skeptical panel of lawmakers on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, he outlined his appalling reasoning.

“When you give discounted or free passes to elderly, fourth graders, veterans, disabled, and you do it by the carload,” Zinke said, “there’s not a whole lot of people who actually pay at our front door.”

He stressed that he plans to keep free admission for those groups. But he noted that “we’re looking at ways to make sure we have more revenue in the front door of our parks themselves.”

If Zinke had a good-faith intention to improve funding for America’s national parks, he might look at his own wallet first.

He chartered rides on private and military jets at a cost of tens of thousands to taxpayers. On one occasion, he took a $39,000 ride in a helicopter paid for with money earmarked for fighting wildfires.

He even appeared to fly on a military jet to a congressional fundraiser in Alaska, in a potential violation of the law.

Moreover, the strength of Zinke’s commitment to national parks is dubious. His treatment of the National Park Service advisory board has been abominable. Indeed, two months ago, nine of its 12 members resigned in protest.

Zinke is liked little better by the general public, following his decision to shrink two national monuments. That move was protested by environmental groups, Native American tribes, and the founder of Patagonia.

Zinke also proposed opening California’s coast to more offshore oil drilling. The unpopular proposal is embraced by California Republicans like Orange County’s Reps. Dana Rohrabacher and Mimi Walters. Residents, however, are staging protests to bring more attention to the issue, and remind voters where the loyalties of their elected officials lie.

This White House has no bounds of shamelessness when trying to defend the indefensible. And that includes blaming veterans, the elderly, and disabled people rather than accepting even a modicum of responsibility.