Congress Is Trying To Rein In The National Park Service’s Massive Debt
Top lawmakers in the House introduced a bill Wednesday to set up a fund focused on paying down the National Park Service’s (NPS) $12 billion maintenance backlog.
GOP Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah and Democrat Rep. Raúl Grijalva of Arizona — the chairman and ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, respectively — are pushing legislation establishing the National Park Service and Public Lands Restoration Fund. The fund will be financed by fees from energy development on federal land not already set aside or promised toward other projects.
“Our parks are national treasures. Let’s start treating them that way,” Bishop said in a statement. “This bipartisan bill will put us on the path to improving our parks for future generations.”
The Department of the Interior brought in over $7 billion in royalties from oil, gas and coal development on federal leases in 2017.
“The idea of dedicating energy development funds to conservation goes back to the creation of the Land and Water Conservation Fund in 1964,” Grijalva added. “I’m pleased to join Chairman Bishop to add overdue maintenance and repair work at national parks and public lands to the list of projects eligible for this dedicated funding.”
The NPS maintenance shortfall is decades in the making and represents the largest chuck of a $16 billion deferred maintenance backlog facing the DOI and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who has said addressing the debt is a top priority. (RELATED: US Public Lands Are So Poorly Managed That Toilets Are Leaking, Roofs Breaking)
“Due to years of funding shortfalls, our most treasured places are plagued by outdated water infrastructure, crumbling trails and decaying park facilities across the National Park System — nearly $12 billion in needed repairs,” National Parks Conservation Association president and CEO Theresa Pierno said in a statement.
The legislation echoes a Trump administration proposal to utilize oil, gas and coal lease revenues to pay down the debt and repair and the U.S. park system.
President Donald Trump proposed a “Public Lands Infrastructure Fund” to address the maintenance backlog as part of his 2018 budget proposal for the DOI released in February.
At the time, Grijalva opposed investing lease revenue in park maintenance, claiming the proceeds would do little to help pay down the $12 billion debt.
“Gas and oil royalties pay 8, 9, 10 percent depending, and that is not going to be enough. There are already thousands and thousands of permits that have never been used,” Grijalva said in February.
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