In a speech delivered to NPS employees in front of Yellowstone National Park’s Old Faithful Geyser, Vice President Mike Pence repeated a Trump Administration call for proceeds on public-lands energy drilling leases to be diverted to addressing a $12-billion backlog of critical National Park infrastructure maintenance.
That there is a backlog of sorely needed National Park infrastructure repairs is not up for debate: folks on every portion of the political spectrum agree on it. What folks on every portion of the political spectrum cannot agree on is a way for pay for it. Congress has apportioned an additional $500 million in recent years to address there backlog, but that’s not enough, and in its most recent budget the Trump Administration has proposed a 15 percent cut in National Parks spending.
In a Yellowstone National Park visit yesterday, Pence and the Second Lady, Karen Pence, laid down some sections in the rebuilding of the Old Faithful boardwalk–a $250,000 project–before addressing a gathering of National Park Service employees. His remarks were not open to the public and were brief, covering the Trump Administration’s proposal to address the shortfall by shifting current revenue collections from public-land oil and gas drilling leases to National Park infrastructure. As far as solutions go, it’s not gained any traction in Congress: by merely shifting revenue from one line item to another, it merely creates a hole elsewhere in the U.S. budget that must be addressed in some other fashion. Here’s what Pence had to say to the National Park Service employees, from the official record issued by Pence’s office:
And we’re very excited. We do have — as the Secretary pointed out — we do have backlog in maintenance in hundreds of millions of dollars. But our administration has proposed a new fund that would capture 50 percent of all the revenues coming off of leases on public lands, and investing those back in our national parks and in our national treasures. We’re getting broad, bipartisan support for it and we’re going to continue to carry that message back to Washington, D.C.
And hopefully, with the Secretary’s hard work and the President’s efforts and the support of people in both parties, we’ll get that bill to the President’s desk, and we’ll have even more resources to clear that backlog and make sure that Yellowstone and all of our national parks are pristine and accessible for millions of Americans for generations to come.
The proposal is not new and not gained any nonpartisan support: it’s been pushed by the Trump Administration and have gone nowhere, mainly because there’s little appetite in the general public to increase drilling on public lands. It also may not be enough: Former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke first proposed the diversion in February 2018, only to be met with skepticism even from within his own party, per The Hill:
But the proposal heralded by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke faces several key hurdles, leaving even Republican members of Congress questioning its feasibility and raising a number of concerns, including whether the drilling money is already spoken for by other agencies.
“Keep in mind that if we are funding this through oil revenues from offshore, what else is it being spent for?” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), chair of the Senate appropriations subcommittee on the Interior.
“You have a lot of uses or sources, a lot of calls on that same money. So how many times has it been spent over? We have to find that out,” she added.
The annual budget already takes into consideration the billions of dollars in revenue generated from oil and gas extraction on public lands when it makes its appropriations to each department. Zinke’s plan suggests creating a Public Lands Infrastructure Fund to pool new lease sale revenues for use exclusively by Interior.
Image via National Park Service.