Oil and gas industry groups are becoming more vocal in supporting bipartisan legislation that proposes using federal fossil fuel production royalties to chip away at the $12 billion maintenance backlog at national parks.
The Restore Our Parks Act (H.R. 1225 and S. 500) would earmark for national park maintenance up to $1.3 billion of unallocated federal revenues from oil, gas, coal, and renewable energy development on federal lands each year through fiscal 2023.
The House version of the bill would also earmark a fraction of that funding for maintenance projects at national wildlife refuges, Bureau of Land Management land, and schools on Indian reservations.
Oil and gas groups say the legislation would show the value of producing fossil fuels on public land, even as several Democratic presidential candidates support blocking such leasing on federal lands to address climate change.
The bills would allow fossil fuels production on public land to “fix up the national parks” and wipe out half their maintenance backlog within five years, said Aaron Johnson, vice president of public affairs for the Western Energy Alliance, which represents oil and gas producers on federal lands in the West.
The House version of the bill is one of only three bills that the Western Energy Alliance is publicly supporting in the current Congress because the measures promote oil and gas development and create “a reasonable regulatory environment.”
“Multiple-use public lands can be used for the benefit of national parks,” Johnson said.
The American Petroleum Institute has called for expanded access to oil and gas leasing on federal lands—already part of the Trump administration’s energy agenda—in order to maintain national parks.
“We are proud of the fact that royalties from federal natural gas and oil production fund conservation programs in all 50 states,” including national park maintenance, Carrie Domnitch, API senior director for federal relations, said in a statement. The group declined to comment further.
Other industry groups also support using oil and gas royalties to fund national parks upkeep.
Alby Modiano, president and CEO of the U.S. Oil and Gas Association, wrote that he supported an earlier version of the legislation in a November column titled “How the Oil & Gas Industry is Saving America’s National Parks,” published in the trade publication Shale Magazine.
Modiano didn’t immediately respond to Bloomberg Environment’s requests for comment.
If the legislation is signed into law, the National Park Service would take steps to speed up construction in parks across the U.S., Park Service spokesman Jeremy Barnum said.
National parks, monuments, parkways, historic sites, and other lands managed by the Park Service are faced with aging buildings, high visitation numbers, and crumbling roads, trails and other facilities. Deferred maintenance has totaled between $11 billion and $12 billion since 2010, Barnum said.
Deferred maintenance at individual parks range from less than $100,000 at some of the least-visited and developed parks to up to $654 million at the National Mall in Washington, according to the park service’s fiscal 2018 maintenance backlog tally.
Backlogged maintenance totals $645 million at Yosemite National Park in California, $313 million at Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona, and $651 million at Gateway National Recreation Area near New York City.
“Facilities and roads need work. There needs to be a huge influx of funding to address it,” said Emily Douce, director of operations and park funding at the National Parks Conservation Association, a parks advocacy group which supports the legislation.
Bipartisan congressional support for the measure is also snowballing. As of July 11, the GOP-sponsored bills have 40 cosponsors in the Senate and 296 cosponsors in the House, with 30 House members and three senators signing on within the last month.
The bill’s primary Senate sponsor, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) is actively seeking others, Portman spokeswoman Emmalee Kalmbach said.
“There’s a lot of energy around this bill,” Douce said. “We hope they can pass this bill before the end of this Congress.”
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee expects to mark up the Senate version of the measure in the near future, according to committee staff. The House Natural Resources Committee approved its version of the bill June 26.
No Reason to Support Drilling
But the legislation shouldn’t be seen as a reason to support oil drilling on federal lands, Douce, from the National Parks Conservation Association, said.
Some of the federal government’s revenue generated from oil and gas production on public lands is earmarked for the Land and Water Conservation Fund and other purposes, while the remainder just goes to the federal treasury.
“We’re asking for a portion of that unallocated money to address the backlog,” Douce said. “It’s not to incentivize oil and gas development, it’s to take existing royalties and put it back into public lands to address their maintenance needs.”
Some 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, including Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, have called for a halt to oil and gas leasing on federal lands to cut off a source of greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change.
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