A bipartisan group of Senators on Thursday introduced a bill that aims to fix the National Park Service’s (NPS) maintenance backlog by using funds generated from onshore and offshore drilling.
The legislation introduced by Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Angus King (I-Maine) offers a legislative fix based on a proposal by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke last summer.
The idea behind the bill, called the Restore Our Parks Act, would be to allocate specific revenue generated from the royalty sales from energy production on federal lands and waters to help repair park roads, visitor centers and other structures on National Park lands.
“In the last year, the maintenance backlog at Park Service sites in Virginia grew by $250 million, to over a billion dollars. Virginia now ranks third among all states in total deferred maintenance, trailing only California and the District of Columbia,” Warner said of his decision to co-sponsor the bill.
“The longer we wait to address the crumbling infrastructure in our national parks, the worse the problem gets.”
Zinke told reporters last July that new royalty and fee payments from drilling can go a long way toward solving the than $11 billion maintenance backlog at NPS.
He said the Obama administration missed out on the potential revenue, pointing to the fact that the Interior Department brought in $2.6 billion from offshore drilling last year, compared with $18.1 billion in 2008.
“When you drop $15.5 billion a year in revenue … it has a consequence,” Zinke said at the time.
Interior’s proposed fiscal 2019 budget released in January formally pushed Zinke’s idea — calling for Congress to establish a fund to place nearly $18 billion in revenue that would solely go towards fixing the park maintenance backlog.
The senators’ bill aims to do just that by setting up the “National Park Service Legacy Restoration Fund.” The bill allocates half of the money that the federal government gets from energy production that is above 2018 forecasts and not dedicated for another use and won’t exceed $1.3 billion each year.
The bill is a merger of two separate bills previously introduced by two groups of lawmakers — Warner and Portman’s National Park Service Legacy Act and Alexander and King’s National Park Restoration Act.
“This is not a Republican or Democrat issue, this is an American issue, and I think that the bipartisan body of lawmakers who put this bill forward is proof. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Administration and Congress to see this come to fruition,” Zinke said in a statement.
Some critics, however, question the legality and feasibility of the bill which would essentially take away revenue already used by multiple agencies and allocate it specifically to the NPS.
Zinke has also used the issue as a rallying cry to increase oil and gas production in the U.S. in order to generate revenue for the country.
In January, Interior announced that it was exploring expanding offshore oil drilling off coastal states as a means of generating royalties. The announcement was met with heavy criticism from a number of coastal states that are opposed to drilling off their shores.