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ICYMI: Let’s Work Together to Fix Our National Parks

By: U.S. Reps. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) and Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.)

The Hill

Years of increasing visitation and flat funding have left many of our national parks full of potholes, crumbling bridges, leaky water pipes and faltering power grids. Our parks have been “loved to death,” as Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke quipped a few months ago. While this is a good problem to have, it’s still a problem, and Congress should start doing its part to help fix it.

In one way or another, Americans from all regions of the country are familiar with our national parks. They are treasured landscapes. They have a special place for communities who live near their boundaries and share a deep history with the landscape. They are revered by millions of Americans who travel far from home to encounter these surreal wonders. These areas provide more than just a good vacation spot – they help define the American experience.

That experience is being threatened. The National Park Service (NPS) maintenance backlog is nearly $12 billion, and that figure isn’t getting smaller on its own. There’s enough blame to go around for this: Congress and several presidential administrations have allowed lands designated by Congress as icons of ecological or historical importance to languish.

The good news is that bipartisanship isn’t quite dead yet, and we’re working together to fix this problem. We’re introducing a bipartisan bill today that creates the National Park Service and Public Lands Legacy Restoration Fund. This fund puts us on the pathway toward eliminating the backlog, restoring these treasured lands and expanding quality access and enjoyment for Americans from all regions and walks of life.

The bill dedicates revenue from mineral extraction on federal lands and in federal waters to address the maintenance backlogs of the NPS, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Indian Education schools. This same revenue stream is used now to support the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and our bill adds maintenance and repair work at national parks and public lands to the list of projects eligible for this dedicated funding. Continuing to use mineral royalties to support public lands makes sense for the long term. A $12 billion backlog won’t be overcome overnight, especially if funding is held hostage by Washington politics.    

How does this work in practice? It’s simple, and we’re hoping its simplicity will help us build a coalition of support. The new maintenance fund will receive 50 percent of all revenue the federal government receives from energy production on both federal lands and waters, not already allocated to LWCF or other programs. While the vast majority of this funding comes from onshore and offshore oil drilling, a portion comes from alternative and renewable energy sources like solar, wind, geothermal and hydropower. Ultimately, this new fund will help our federal land management agencies aggressively reduce their maintenance backlogs and improve species restoration, environmental stewardship and resource management.

This legislation comes at the right time: our national parks are getting more popular every year. The maintenance backlog poses a real threat to this upward trend. Our bipartisan bill is a chance for some unity on a problem the American people want us to solve.
If we want millions of people to continue visiting and enjoying our national parks – and making return trips to celebrate our shared history and love of the natural world – we have to put our money where our mouth is, work together and move forward to reduce the backlog. Allowing our parks to crumble is simply not an option.

Our national parks are the crown jewels of our public lands, and the Public Lands Legacy Restoration Fund will help ensure they remain the crown jewel for decades to come.

Rob Bishop is chairman of the Natural Resources Committee. Grijalva is ranking member of the Natural Resources Committee