Parks And Public Lands Maintenance Backlog Bill Relaunches With Significant Bipartisan Backing
A bipartisan bill to dedicate funding to the nation’s beloved National Park System facing billions of dollars in maintenance backlogs and other deferred infrastructure from House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Republican Rob Bishop (R-Utah) and U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.) was introduced Thursday.
More than 90 House members have co-sponsored the Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act, which would apply unallocated federal energy development revenue to deal with the nearly $12 billion in deferred maintenance backlogs, including historical sites, buildings and, most importantly for access to the parks and sites themselves, roads.
The $6.5 billion would be allocated between 2020 and 2024 from “50 percent of all energy development revenues due and payable to the United States from oil, gas, coal, or alternative or renewable energy development on Federal land and water that would otherwise be credited, covered, or deposited as miscellaneous receipts under Federal law,” the bill states.
“Today is Valentine’s Day and one thing Americans love most are our National Parks. Our parks are treasures, the perfect backdrop to a great love story. Unfortunately, they are in need of some serious TLC. This bipartisan bill will put us on the path to improving our parks for future generations,” said Bishop.
Bishop’s co-sponsor, Kilmer, agreed.
“The Olympic National Park is the crown jewel of our region – but our crown jewel is getting a little rusty,” said Kilmer. “I am proud to lead this bipartisan effort to provide dedicated funding to address the much-needed repairs at Olympic National Park and throughout our National Park system so these assets can continue to provide amazing visitor experiences and serve as economic drivers for rural communities for future generations.”
A Western Wire review of maintenance backlogs in western states in August 2018 revealed that $4.1 billion was needed for roads, according to data compiled by The Pew Charitable Trust.
Arizona’s popular and iconic Grand Canyon National Park has $329.4 million in maintenance backlogs, with needs for upgrades to the park’s water systems, roads, wastewater disposal, trails, building, parking areas, communications, unpaved road maintenance, and other improvements and repairs.
In Bishop’s home state, Utah’s seven largest national parks and recreation areas have tens of millions in backlogs, including Zion National Park ($65.3 million), Glen Canyon National Recreation Area ($63.7 million), Canyonlands National Park ($40.7 million), Bryce Canyon National Park ($27.1 million), Arches National Park ($25.6 million), Dinosaur National Monument ($15.4 million), and Capitol Reef National Park ($8.4 million).
The nation’s first national park, Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park, currently has more than half a billion dollars–$515.8 million—in backlogs, with $314 million for park roads and buildings.
U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), who replaced Bishop as chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, co-sponsored a different version of the bill in 2018, along with Bishop.
Grijalva is not a co-sponsor of the new bill. A Western Wire call to Grijalva’s office seeking comment was not immediately returned.
Supporters of the bill praised the bipartisan nature of the bill as well as its approach for finding necessary funding.
“The bipartisan Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act is a real step forward in addressing critical repair needs in our public lands. Investment in these places keeps them accessible and creates jobs,” said Marcia Argust, Director of Restore America’s Parks for The Pew Charitable Trusts.
Thomas J. Cassidy, Vice President for Government Relations and Policy for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, said the current maintenance backlog “jeopardizes some of our nation’s most iconic historic resources and cultural artifacts.”
“By creating a reliable federal funding source to reduce the backlog, the ‘Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act’ will enable the National Park Service and other federal agencies to save the historic structures, landscapes, and necessary infrastructure that enable the public to safely enjoy the places that reflect our nation’s history,” said Cassidy.
“Thanks to Representatives Bishop and Kilmer, this bill is further proof that these issues can, and should, be bipartisan,” said Theresa Pierno, President and CEO for the National Parks Conservation Association.
Addressing the nation’s growing interest in visiting the nation’s parks—Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park saw record attendance in 2018 at nearly 4.6 million visitors, up 40 percent from 2012—and its aging infrastructure is critical moving forward, Pierno added.
“A substantial investment is desperately needed and long overdue to help address and maintain crumbling roads, failing park infrastructure and modernizing water systems that were built during World War II,” she said.
More than 330 million visits were recorded in 2017, and nearly $36 billion in economic output, according to Tori Barnes, Senior Vice President of Government Relations at U.S. Travel Association.
Another of the bill’s co-sponsors emphasized the regional importance of the parks’ historical and cultural value, as well as the economic drivers they have become.
“Big Bend, the San Antonio Missions and all of the parks and historical areas I represent provide immeasurable cultural, environmental and economic benefits. We have a responsibility as a nation to care for these natural treasures,” said U.S. Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas). “This bill provides more flexible financing options and revenue sources to jump start these overdue maintenance projects, so that our parks can remain beautiful and accessible for future generations of park goers to enjoy.”
“It’s economically and environmentally irresponsible to grant the federal government authority to accrue more land in perpetuity. As evidenced by the $16 billion maintenance backlog at DOI, the federal government cannot effectively manage the land it already owns. Any step policymakers take to restrict the use of LWCF [Land and Water Conservation Fund] for federal land acquisition and dedicate funds to address the backlog is a step in the right direction,” Nick Loris, Herbert and Joyce Morgan fellow in Energy and Environmental Policy, Center for Free Markets and Regulatory Reform at The Heritage Foundation, told Western Wire.
A Senate version of the bill was also introduced by U.S. Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Angus King (I-Maine) and Mark Warner (D-Va.).
Parks in western states currently account for approximately 40 percent of the total maintenance backlog, or $4.6 billion. Digging further, the state breakdowns are staggering:
Alaska, $105 million
Arizona, $532 million
California, $1.809 billion
Colorado, $238 million
North Dakota, $52 million
New Mexico, $123 million
Nevada, $223 million
Oregon, $116 million
South Dakota, $66 million
Utah, $266 million
Washington, $399 million
Wyoming, $702 million