U.S. House Committee Passes National Parks Upkeep Bill

Published August 16, 2019

Bipartisan legislation to use revenues from energy production on federal property to pay down the large maintenance backlog at national parks was approved by the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources.

Under H.R. 1225, the Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act, 50 percent of the revenues from oil, gas, coal, and alternative or renewable energy development on federal lands and waters from 2020 through 2024 would be dedicated to repairing and maintaining national parks. The funding, capped at $1.3 billion annually, aims at covering half of the National Park Service’s (NPS) deferred maintenance within five years.

National parks, monuments, historic sites, and other properties managed by NPS have aging buildings and crumbling roads, trails, and other facilities. The deferred maintenance backlog has grown from $11 billion to $12 billion since 2010.

The legislation now awaits action by the full House of Representatives.

Federal Lands in Disrepair

Over the years, Congress has irresponsibly increased the size of the federal estate without providing the resources needed to maintain properties it already controls, says Katie Tubb, a senior policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation.

“The Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act is recognition of the significant catchup work Congress needs to do by focusing existing funds entirely on the maintenance backlogs,” Tubb said of the bill passed by the House committee in June. “It also wisely clarifies funds cannot be used to exacerbate problems by acquiring more lands or to write off routine maintenance.”

Tubb says park management is also plagued by misguided laws.

“Congress needs to get to work to address deeper policy issues driving maintenance backlogs in the first place,” said Tubb. “For example, thanks to the National Environmental Policy Act and a broken legal system, it took Yosemite National Park almost two decades to finalize management plans to address flood-damaged roads, bridges, campgrounds, and water and sewage infrastructure.

“America is getting exactly the results to be expected from such a poorly rationalized, highly conflicted approach to management,” Tubb said. “Congress should look to reduce burdensome regulations thwarting stewardship and introduce principles of property rights and markets to make our national parks more sustainable for the long term.”

Suggests Public Trusts

Government ownership of national parks is not a good idea, says John Baden, Ph.D., founder of the Foundation for Research on Energy and the Environment.

“I have proposed for the past 40 years national parks and wilderness lands, things like that, should be managed as public trusts,” said Baden. “We have about 500 years of experience with trusts, we know what the dangers are, the safeguards have evolved over the centuries, and it’s almost surely the most constructive thing we can do.

“For example, during a government shutdown several years ago, the national parks were closed, yet Monticello and Mount Vernon, which are public trusts, were open,” Baden said.

Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.