Bipartisan lawmakers introduce bill to end national parks maintenance backlog

Bipartisan lawmakers introduce bill to end national parks maintenance backlog
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The chairman and ranking member of the House committee that oversees the Interior Department teamed up on Wednesday to introduce a bill that aims to fix a multibillion-dollar national parks maintenance backlog.

House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob BishopRobert (Rob) William BishopNew Endangered Species Act rules provide clarity and enhance species health The House Republicans and Democrats not seeking reelection in 2020 Texas GOP lawmaker Conaway announces retirement MORE (R-Utah) and ranking member Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) introduced the Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act to address the roughly $12 billion dollars in maintenance needed at national parks across the U.S., including road and visitor center construction needs.

The House bill, largely seen as a companion to a bipartisan Senate bill introduced in June, would fund the needed construction projects by earmarking revenue made from energy production on public lands, including income from onshore and offshore oil and gas leases.

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The House bill goes a step further than the Senate proposal, looking to spread funding not just to address backlogs in the National Park Service (NPS), but also at the Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management — a move that will likely be embraced by hunting and fishing groups who utilize those public lands.

“There is an equal problem with a same situation with a backlog. And all of those different elements once again, help people be able to access those areas. And if you can’t access them there is little value to us,” Bishop said of the expansion.

Under the House bill, 80 percent of the funding would go toward backlogs at the National Park Service and the remaining 20 percent would hit the other bureaus.

The two lawmakers — who have frequently butted heads on a number of issues related to the park system — noted how historical the co-sponsorship was.

“I really can’t remember when the chairman and I have had a joint press conference, we’ve had a dueling press conference, but not joint,” said Grijalva at the event announcing the bill. “The seriousness of dealing with this issue and NPS is urgent.”

Bishop joked that he wondered what had happened to make Grijalva work with him.

“He is one of the members in the committee who I like the most. I get along with him on a personal level, it’s just that he’s always wrong,” Bishop said about his Democratic counterpart. “Which makes me worried about this situation.”

The House bill has a number of similarities to an idea first proposed by Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeNew policy at Interior's in-house watchdog clamps down on interactions with press Overnight Energy: EPA proposes scrapping limits on coal plant waste | Appointee overseeing federal lands once advocated selling them | EPA lifts Obama-era block on controversial mine Latest appointee overseeing federal public lands once advocated to sell them MORE in January to increase offshore and onshore drilling on public lands in order to fund the maintenance backlog at parks.

Grijalva, who ardently opposed Zinke’s idea at the time, said at the conference that this bill won him over because it does not incentivize increased drilling. Instead, he said, it aims to utilize existing funding.

“[Interior’s idea] said we need to increase energy production as a trade-off — this does not. That was not a trade-off that we needed to make,” Grijalva said. “We put aside unnecessary demands and debates and focused on the funding problem.”

Various environmental groups, including the National Wildlife Federation and The Pew Charitable Trusts, have backed the bill.

Grijalva also pushed that the bill was just one of the necessary steps needed to provide funding to national parks. While its aim is to fund maintenance projects, he pushed lawmakers to additionally work toward the reauthorization of another program that focuses on conservation at parks — the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).

“Directing revenue from energy production to support national parks and public land is not a new idea. The Land and Water Conservation Fund originated that, this bipartisan model, more than 50 years ago," Grijalva said. "And the future of that program, as the deadline approaches, needs to be part of this discussion. Mandatory money for deferred maintenance should be paired with mandatory consideration and discussion of resources for LWCF.”

Bishop said he believes the bill has enough political clout to pass as a stand-alone and said he’s working with senators who introduced similar legislation on a Senate bill. He would not name the senators.

Updated at 4:49 p.m. to clarify the $12 billion maintenance backlog.