Warmer months are just around the corner, presenting an opportune time to visit a national park — and millions of Americans will do just that. But most visitors will be unaware that the parks they’re visiting are buckling under a multibillion-dollar maintenance backlog, threatening the vitality of these national treasures — and hard-earned vacation dollars.
To address this deteriorating infrastructure, a bipartisan consensus has emerged in the House, Senate and Trump administration. Swift action is essential before Americans’ access to and enjoyment of our national parks is further damaged. With a unified call for a robust, stable and politically viable funding mechanism to address the challenge, the political will is there.
Earlier this month, Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, through the administration’s FY 2019 budget request to Congress, proposed reforms to aggressively tackle the $11.6 billion maintenance backlog crisis facing our national parks. The proposal includes the creation of a fund utilizing revenues from responsible development of renewable and conventional sources of energy on federal lands onshore and offshore. Shortly after, bipartisan members advanced the proposal with legislation, H.R. 5210 in the House and S. 2509 in the Senate. This week, the House Committee on Natural Resources reviewed this bill, along with a similar bipartisan proposal, H.R. 2584, legislation designed to achieve similar goals.
For decades, revenues derived from energy development on federal lands have been used to invest in land and resource conservation and promote greater public access to recreational activities through the Land and Water Conservation Fund. What’s been missing, however, is a similar commitment to maintain and conserve these lands and facilities for future generations to enjoy.
Secretary Zinke has been known to say our public lands and national parks are currently “loved to death.” There is a deep appreciation for our public lands, but these popular destination areas simply aren’t being maintained as they should. Real commitment to conservation means prioritizing the care we afford to our existing parks, not just calling to create more of them.
As we work to improve stewardship practices across federal land and resource management agencies, we must also pursue “all-of-the-above” solutions to address infrastructure and maintenance challenges dealing with water and power development, especially in western states. The president’s proposal includes bold ideas to invest in rural communities and spur water and power development, with the goal of moving certain responsibilities back to the states where they ultimately belong. Broader federal permitting reforms must also be pursued; this is essential to any successful infrastructure package.
The House, Senate and Trump administration are poised to create a stable and reliable fund to help reduce the crippling maintenance backlog at the National Park Service and potentially other federal land management agencies. The House Committee on Natural Resources will do its part to set the stage for a viable solution.
The emerging bipartisan approach to solving our park deferred-maintenance problem can serve as a model for the rest of Congress, including action on a broader infrastructure package and more.
The snow is melting. The birds will soon be chirping. Let’s get to work.
• Rep. Rob Bishop, Utah Republican, is Chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources.
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