Western Wire

The Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act received overwhelming bi-partisan support yesterday during a hearing held by the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee. The bill, aimed at reducing the National Park System’s deferred maintenance backlog, was approved by the panel on vote of 36-2 and may head to the House floor soon where its already racked more than 290 Democratic and Republican co-sponsors.

Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.) and Ranking Republican, Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), sponsored the bill and applauded the collaborative effort from both parties.

“Our national parks are our nation’s crown jewels – an extraordinary legacy to be taken care of and shared with future generations,” said Rep. Kilmer. “With that in mind, I’m excited to see the House Committee on Natural Resources advance the Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act with overwhelming bipartisan support. This bill will help address the much-needed repairs at Olympic National Park and throughout the park system, ensuring our parks can continue to provide amazing visitor experiences and serve as economic drivers for rural communities throughout America.”

Rep. Bishop noted the legislation has been a rare bipartisan accomplishment in Congress this year.

“The overwhelming support for this bill puts it in a league of its own. There have been thousands of bills introduced this Congress and fewer than ten have garnered the support enjoyed by the Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act,” said Bishop. “Our park system is riddled with hazards that threaten the safety of Americans and park visitors. This bill addresses those issues at no added expense to the taxpayer.”

The National Park System is dealing with a massive $12 billion deferred maintenance backlog. The Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act would help reduce that deficit by devoting up to $1.3 billion a year from revenues generated by oil, gas, coal, and renewable energy development on federal lands.

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) has introduced the legislation in the Senate, where it has 40 co-sponsors, including a number of leading Democratic presidential candidates.

In an exclusive interview with Western Wire earlier this month, U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said he met with dozens of senators during his confirmation process and said that they realize the need to address the backlog. Bernhardt said it will take nudging Congress to work with the administration and a “creative” approach to meet the needs of the National Park Service.

Last week, Western Wire analyzed a new report from the Property and Environment Research Center (PERC) that showed funding needs include hiking trails, visitor centers, and historic buildings. According to PERC, park visitation has quadrupled since 1960 to nearly 331 million visits in both 2016 and 2017. Despite this increased popularity, federal funding for recreational resources has hovered around $3.5 billion per year without any corresponding growth to meet the demands of new visitors.