Interior chief: New offshore drilling funds should pay for parks

Interior chief: New offshore drilling funds should pay for parks
© Getty Images

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.

ADVERTISEMENT
“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 WarnerBipartisan group of lawmakers aim to reform US sugar program The Hill interview — DNC chief: I came here to win elections Virginia's governor race: What to watch for MORE (D-Va.) and Rep. Derek KilmerDerek Christian KilmerWest Coast Dems lead call to fund early warning system for earthquakes Overnight Cybersecurity: Top Dems seek data from GOP analytics firms | Georgia election server wiped after lawsuit | Corker says Trump officials implementing Russia sanctions This is the best first step to stop Russian meddling in our politics MORE (D-Wash.) would do that, first directing $50 million a year to a park infrastructure fund and then slowly increasing to $500 million.