Energy & Environment

Lawmakers propose boosting park funding with oil money

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A bipartisan group of lawmakers unveiled a bill Wednesday to increase funding for national park infrastructure, using money from energy produced both offshore and on federal land.

The bill, backed by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, is meant in part to implement the Trump administration’s proposal last month for a new National Park Service (NPS) infrastructure fund paid for with money from oil drilling, wind, solar and other federal energy sources.

Dubbed the National Park Restoration Act, the bill 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.

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“The good news is we love our national parks. The bad news is we love our national parks. We’re loving them almost to death as we face infrastructure challenges,” Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), one of the sponsors of the proposal, told reporters Wednesday.

“Congress is rightfully accused of kicking the can down the road all the time,” he said. “We have a chance this moment to step forward and address this issue for future generations.”

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,” Alexander said.

The NPS had an $11.6 billion maintenance backlog as of last September, about half of which comes from roads and bridges.

The idea of using oil money to fund parks is not new. Many of the backers of the Wednesday bill have previously floated similar proposals.

In addition, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which has operated for decades, relies on offshore drilling money. It doles out money not just to federal park programs, but also to local and state programs, with a focus on acquiring land and building recreational facilities.

The bill unveiled Wednesday would take an additional step to protect the funding it sets aside. The money would become mandatory, and not subject to the annual appropriations process.

In the Trump administration’s budget proposal released last month, officials estimated that a similar funding idea would raise $7 billion over 10 years.

“Americans deserve to have a park system that’s well-funded, that’s well-operated, and visitor experience in our parks should remain sacred,” Zinke said Wednesday.

“It’s a fair proposition to say if you’re going to raise wealth on public lands … you should also invest in the future of public lands, particularly our national parks.”

The proposal’s initial backers include Sen. Angus King (I-Maine.)​, Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.)​ and Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.).

Tags Angus King Cory Gardner Kurt Schrader Lamar Alexander Martin Heinrich Mike Simpson National Park Service Natural gas oil Ryan Zinke Shelley Moore Capito Steve Daines Thom Tillis
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