Environmental groups are hailing Senate Democrats’ newly released infrastructure plan for how it proposes to fix a multibillion-dollar backlog of projects on national park land.
The plan proposed by Democrats on Wednesday would undo some of the tax cuts in the law President Trump signed in December in order to pay for a $1 trillion infrastructure plan, which would invest $5 billion in repairs at national park sites.
The National Park Service is currently sitting on an $11.6 billion repair backlog.
“Today’s Senate blueprint demonstrates we can fix our parks without compromising what makes them great. It’s proof that taking care of America’s parks doesn’t have to mean rolling back environmental protections or encouraging damaging drilling on public lands,” said Theresa Pierno, president of National Parks Conservation Association, in a statement Wednesday.
The Democrats’ plan varies from one proposed in February’s White House 2019 budget and praised by Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke , which would instead completely fund the backlogged projects by drilling leases on public lands. The infrastructure needs range from building new park roads to repairing ranger stations.
The Democratic proposal came as another group of senators announced bipartisan legislation that would essentially codify Zinke’s proposal into law. The National Park Restoration Act would take half of the money that the federal government gets from energy production that is above 2018 forecasts and not dedicated for another use.
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the bill’s lead sponsor, said tackling a maintenance backlog would bring visitors and create jobs for people in his state. “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 environmental and wilderness groups agree that the repairs must be addressed as soon as possible, they are championing the Democrats’ approach over Zinke’s.
“The Park Service’s $11.6 billion repair backlog is a critical problem that demands attention, but the administration’s proposals come at too great a cost by undermining vital environmental laws and potentially harming other public lands,” Pierno said.
Environmentalists have spoken out against Zinke’s plans in the past, fearing that opening up drilling on public lands will negatively impact the ecosystems.
The Wilderness Society called the Democrats’ plan a “vast improvement over the one proposed by the Trump administration,” in a statement.
Lydia Weiss, director of government relations at The Wilderness Society said the White House’s proposal “steamrolls environmental protection in the name of infrastructure, which is a road to nowhere.”
In contrast, Weiss said, the Democratic Senators’ proposal “provides a solid roadmap for investing in our shared public lands and the nation’s vital infrastructure. It offers funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, park maintenance, tribal needs and other priorities.”