The Trump administration's plan to fund National Parks maintenance needs through energy profits is meeting some opposition.
The National Parks Restoration bill, introduced in Congress on Wednesday, would invest up to $18 billion of revenue derived from energy produced on federal lands into parks across the country. The bill falls in line with the Public Lands Infrastructure Fund in President Trump's budget proposal. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke joined with Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Angus King, I-Maine, and Reps. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, and Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., and others in introducing the legislation.
"Infrastructure is an investment, not merely an expense. And every dollar we put in to rebuilding our parks will help bolster gateway communities that rely on park visitation for economic vitality," Zinke said.
“This legislation will help address the over $11 billion maintenance backlog at our national parks, including the $215 million backlog of projects in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park,” Alexander said. "We must continue to work together to find solutions to the many challenges facing our public lands, and this legislation takes an important step toward doing that.”
While there's wide agreement that funding is needed to catch up with the backlog amounting to billions of dollars in necessary infrastructure improvements, the Trump administration's plan has been criticized for its disregard of environmental concerns as well as an expected inconsistency in cash flow. The House Committee on Natural Resources held an oversight hearing Tuesday addressing the depth of the parks' backlog, where Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., said that the administration really had no investment plans "other than a wish and a hope that energy production is so robust - so huge - that it begins to deal with the deferred maintenance."
Also addressing the committee was Steve Iobst, who retired in 2016 from his post as deputy superintendent of Yellowstone after 40 years of service to national parks. He expressed a need for greater clarity of the proposed public lands infrastructure fund and questioned using funds generated by energy resources for park maintenance.
“I do have concerns, if I may, regarding operating funds and the fact that the diminishment of funds in the FY18 and FY19 budgets, as examples, do nothing more than contribute to that deferred maintenance backlog. Because that’s why we’re in the condition we are, if you will, with annual funding - operational funding - never meeting the need just to keep that deferred maintenance backlog from growing,” Iobst said. "We note that any fund to address maintenance should not rely on any energy initiatives that threaten the health of our public lands, waters, our parks, our ecosystems that we rely on. The revenue sources cannot just be dedicated funds. It must also be reliable and dependable.”
"While I’m glad to see an interest in finding money to support our public lands, the proposal in the budget is backwards. Our most treasured places now depend on the fortune of the energy industry for their success and their failure. That’s putting things backward. We should not have expanded drilling in the Arctic, off the coast of Florida or anywhere else to save our parks,” Grijalva said. “We don’t have to risk destroying our parks in order to save them.”