Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is signaling support for a bipartisan bill that would begin paying down a $16 billion maintenance backlog on land and infrastructure managed by the Department of the Interior (DOI).
The largest share of the maintenance backlog is owned by the National Park Service (NPS). Roughly $11.6 billion in deferred maintenance has led to increasingly poorer infrastructure, roads and trails in the national parks system. Some parts of the public parks system have been shut down and blocked off because of safety concerns. (RELATED: US Public Lands Are So Poorly Managed That Toilets Are Leaking, Roofs Breaking)
GOP Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah and Democrat Rep. Raúl Grijalva of Arizona — the chairman and ranking member of the House Committee on Natural Resources, respectively — are pushing legislation that would establish a federal land management fund financed by fees from energy development. The National Park Service and Public Lands Restoration Fund, as the trust fund would be called, is similar to a Trump administration proposal introduced in the 2018 White House budget proposal for the DOI.
“The secretary is very happy to see the House put forth a bipartisan bill to rebuild our national parks and other Interior Department infrastructure,” DOI spokeswoman Heather Swift told the Washington Examiner. “This bill very closely aligns with President Trump’s budget proposal and the secretary has been pitching this idea for more than a year now. He believes the momentum is building for a bipartisan and bicameral solution.”
The bipartisan support for the bill is a flip for Democrats who originally opposed the Trump administration’s plan for taking fees paid by energy companies developing federal land and using them to restore public lands infrastructure. At the time, Grijalva claimed the energy receipts would do little to pay down the backlog.
“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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