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Push for National Park Maintenance Funds to Continue

Its backers say a bill to help fund an almost $12 billion maintenance backlog at America’s national parks, including Utah’s Canyonlands, has the support to pass Congress next year. (Winterbear/WikimediaCommons)
Its backers say a bill to help fund an almost $12 billion maintenance backlog at America’s national parks, including Utah’s Canyonlands, has the support to pass Congress next year. (Winterbear/WikimediaCommons)
December 26, 2018

GREEN RIVER, Utah — A bipartisan push in Congress to pay for a multi-billion-dollar maintenance backlog at national parks, in Utah and across America, fell short this session, but backers are optimistic it will pass next year.

Parks and national monuments are badly in need of money to maintain buildings, trails and equipment that have fallen into disrepair. Backers of the measure say it had the votes to pass, but other priorities kept it off the table in the U.S. House this session.

Utah Rep. Rob Bishop, outgoing chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, said continuing to wait isn't an option.

"We've had a backlog for a long time. It's been something that is building, and it exacerbates,” Bishop said. “So, the longer you wait, it keeps continuing on in an exponential manner. So, we need to do something and the sooner we do it, the better."

A Pew Charitable Trusts analysis puts the backlog in Utah's parks at $266 million - which, if funded, would create or support more than 2,100 jobs in the state. Bishop and the incoming chair, Arizona Democrat Raul Grijalva, are co-sponsors of the Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act.

The bill would fund about half of the maintenance backlog at the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Bureau of Indian Education. Rebecca Knuffke, an officer with the Restore Our Parks campaign at The Pew Charitable Trusts, said the bill's chances in the new Congress are good.

"The current legislation is supported by a third of the Senate and more than half of the House,” Knuffke said. “And according to a recent poll by The Pew Charitable Trusts, more than 75 percent of Americans support the plan to help address the almost $12 billion backlog."

She said a key aspect of the bill is that it would use royalties from energy development, not taxpayer dollars, to make the repairs.

"This bill takes revenues from onshore and offshore drilling. It would not take money from other important programs,” Knuffke said. “In fact, the bill has language that would protect those already-obligated funds, like the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the Historic Preservation fund and the states' percentages of those revenues."

The new Congress convenes on January 3.

Support for this reporting is provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Mark Richardson, Public News Service - UT