Interior chief: New offshore drilling funds should pay for parks

Interior chief: New offshore drilling funds should pay for parks
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SHARPSBURG, Md. — Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said that he wants the federal government to increase its income from offshore oil and natural gas drilling to pay for budget gaps in national parks.

Zinke told reporters Wednesday that new royalty and fee payments from drilling can go a long way toward solving the more than $11 billion maintenance backlog at the National Park Service (NPS), as well as mitigate the effects of the $360 million the Trump administration is proposing to slash from the agency’s annual budget.

He has mentioned the plan in recent weeks both to defend the administration’s budget and to support his desire to increase offshore drilling, a plan that could include drilling in the Atlantic and Arctic oceans.

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,” he told reporters after an event at Antietam National Battlefield in Maryland, where he announced that President Trump’s $78,333.32 salary donation from April will go to a pair of projects at that park.

Zinke said he is evaluating ways to increase income from offshore drilling as part of a major review of Interior’s royalties and revenues.

“Across the board, we’re looking at revenue, to make sure we catch up, and my priority is the infrastructure in our park system. We’ve got to protect our parks,” he said.

A small portion of offshore drilling revenue goes into the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which is used to buy parkland and for related purposes.

But the rest of the money goes to the general Treasury, and changes to that system, including directing the funds to go to infrastructure, would have to get congressional approval.

A bill sponsored by Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerSenate Dems press for info on any deals from Trump-Putin meeting Overnight Defense: Trump tries to quell Russia furor | GOP looks to reassure NATO | Mattis open to meeting Russian counterpart Hillicon Valley: Trump tries to quell Russia furor | Sparks fly at hearing on social media | First House Republican backs net neutrality bill | Meet the DNC's cyber guru | Sinclair defiant after merger setback MORE (D-Va.) and Rep. Derek KilmerDerek Christian KilmerDems urge Trump to reinstate top cyber post Congress to require FEC report on foreign money in elections With bills on the table, Congress must heed the call to fix our national parks MORE (D-Wash.) would do that, first directing $50 million a year to a park infrastructure fund and then slowly increasing to $500 million.