Leading Outdoor and Energy Leaders Agree: Support Parks Maintenance Legislation
In a highly-polarized political environment, it is rare to see a proposal that garners support from both sides of the aisle in Washington, and rarer still when that bill is also supported by numerous and diverse stakeholders across the west from different industries.
But that’s the case with the Restore Our Parks Act. At a recent forum hosted by Colorado Business Roundtable and featuring members from the administration of Gov. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), the Outdoor Industry Association, the Western Governors Association, and the Western Energy Alliance, the proposal to help fund National Park Service (NPS) maintenance was widely praised. The Restore Our Parks Act would dedicate a portion of the rents and fees paid by energy and mineral developers operating on federal lands to fund deferred maintenance in National Parks.
“[Through this bill,] we provide a solution for conservation in our parks,” said Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance. “We are already funding 100 percent of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, so we are doing a lot to support conservation in the west.” Western Wire is a project of the Western Energy Alliance.
That money is sorely needed, since both the energy and recreation industries agree that public lands have not been a priority for federal dollars.
The National Parks Service currently has a $12 billion maintenance backlog, including more than $247 million in backlog at Colorado parks. This is a concern for the state’s burgeoning outdoor recreation industry, which plays a large role in Colorado’s economy. Despite a recent surge of interest in camping from millennials and young people, federal spending on public lands has stagnated.
“At the federal level, spending on federal lands and the national parks has actually declined as a percentage of the overall discretionary budget,” said Amy Roberts, president of the Outdoor Industry Association. “I think that generally we are losing ground and we have work to do there.”
The outdoor recreation industry directly supports 229,000 jobs and $9.7 billion of wages and salaries in Colorado and brings in $2 billion in state and local tax revenue. All told, outdoor recreation accounted for 10 percent of the state’s GDP last year.
Meanwhile, energy and mineral development has averaged around 29,300 jobs over the past decade, contributing between 1.8 and 3.7 percent of GDP during that period. Many of these jobs are located on the Western Slope and other areas of the state less visited by tourists.
In many areas of the state, this has required compromise between the various industries and the local communities affected.
While industry and recreation can agree on the need to support National Parks, in other areas of the west, land use has been more controversial. Compromise on where and how to proceed with energy exploration can be difficult as communities look to balance the desire to maintain an area’s natural beauty with realistic concerns about jobs and how to prioritize outdoor recreation and mineral development.
“All Americans own public lands, and all Americans own the energy under public lands, so when it comes to how public lands are used, of course the public should be involved,” said Sgamma, who explained that this is why the permitting process for energy development on public lands is longer than for projects on state or private land.
However, all parties agree on the need to support investment in parks and public lands in Colorado.
“We want to be clear about what we hold near and dear to us. We want strong energy development; we want sustainable lands. We want to be able to grow our economy,” said James Ogsbury, executive director of the Western Governors’ Association, who moderated the panel.
Because of this commitment to sustainable lands and energy development, those at the roundtable event were strong supporters of the Restore Our Parks Act. And they are far from the only ones. Back in Washington, the Restore Our Parks Act has acquired more than 300 cosponsors. Unfortunately, Congressional leadership has had little desire to discuss natural resources issues lately. Sources on Capitol Hill tell Western Wire that it is uncertain when the proposal will make it to the floor for a vote.