Zinke, Alexander pen op-ed: Our parks are being 'loved to death'

Zinke, Alexander pen op-ed: Our parks are being 'loved to death'
© Greg Nash

America's national parks are being "loved to death" according to an op-ed for CNN written by Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeEurope deepens energy dependence on Russia Overnight Energy: House Science Committee hits EPA with subpoenas | California sues EPA over Trump revoking emissions waiver | Interior disbands board that floated privatization at national parks Interior disbands advisory board that floated privatization at national parks MORE and Sen. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderThe Hill's Morning Report — Dems detail case to remove Trump for abuse of power Senate Republicans confident they'll win fight on witnesses Administration to give Senate briefing on coronavirus MORE (R-Tenn.) published Wednesday.

The duo highlights the need for infrastructure improvements across the country's 417 National Park Service sites and promotes a congressional bill sponsored by Alexander that aims to fix the backlog by establishing a permanent fund for the parks.

"Neglect in infrastructure funding has resulted in our trails being eroded, visitor amenities being diminished and campgrounds being closed," the op-ed reads. "The total deferred maintenance bill for all national park sites is four times the annual congressional appropriation. The good news is that this year, we have a proposal in Congress that could tackle most, if not all, of that $11.6 billion backlog over the next 10 years."

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The bill referenced was introduced by Alexander and seven other senators in early March. It essentially aims to legitimize a proposal from the Interior Department's fiscal 2019 budget request that would fund the national park backlog through oil, gas and mineral extraction on public land.

The bipartisan bill, signed by Democratic Sens. Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichDemocratic senator blasts 'draconian' press restrictions during impeachment trial Health care, spending bills fuel busy year for K Street Schumer introduces bill requiring GDP measure inequality MORE (N.M) and Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinSchiff sparks blowback with head on a 'pike' line Schiff closes Democrats' impeachment arguments with emotional appeal to remove Trump Trump's trial a major test for McConnell, Schumer MORE (W.Va), would theoretically address the park service's $11.6 billion deferred maintenance backlog. Yet the proposal is not without its issues. Experts argue that much of the money derived from drilling on public land is already spoken for and included in general congressional budget determinations each year. They also say that putting aside the funds specifically for the Interior Department would create an unfair advantage that no other department has.

As a Cabinet secretary, Zinke can't technically lobby a congressional bill.

Zinke has highlighted plans to increase drilling on public lands and expand offshore drilling as a way to boost revenue, but he faces a number of hurdles including fierce resistance from coastal states and lackluster interest from fossil fuel producers. He recently acknowledged the hiccups.

Speaking to a New Jersey offshore wind conference in April, Zinke said drilling companies are not that interested in new areas offshore, and that there’s “strong opposition” in most of the neighboring states.

The letter does not address either of those concerns.

"Our bipartisan proposal, then, is the latest chapter in this American story of conservation: using revenues from energy development on federal lands as mandatory or automatic funding to help pay for the national park maintenance backlog," Zinke and Alexander write.