Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Zinke, Alexander pen op-ed: Our parks are being 'loved to death'

America's national parks are being "loved to death" according to an op-ed for CNN written by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) published Wednesday. The duo highlights the need for infrastructure improvements across the country's 417 National Park Service sites and promotes a congressional bill sponsored by Alexander that aims to fix the backlog by establishing a permanent fund for the parks. "Neglect in infrastructure funding has resulted in our trails being eroded, visitor amenities being diminished and campgrounds being closed," the op-ed reads. "The total deferred maintenance bill for all national park sites is four times the annual congressional appropriation. The good news is that this year, we have a proposal in Congress that could tackle most, if not all, of that $11.6 billion backlog over the next 10 years." The bill referenced was introduced by Alexander and seven other senators in early March. It essentially aims to legitimize a proposal from the Interior Department's fiscal 2019 budget request that would fund the national park backlog through oil, gas and mineral extraction on public land. The bipartisan bill, signed by Democratic Sens. Martin Heinrich (N.M) and Joe Manchin (W.Va), would theoretically address the park service's $11.6 billion deferred maintenance backlog. Yet the proposal is not without its issues. Experts argue that much of the money derived from drilling on public land is already spoken for and included in general congressional budget determinations each year. They also say that putting aside the funds specifically for the Interior Department would create an unfair advantage that no other department has...MORE

Anything that Senator Heinrich is cosponsoring should run up a red flag right away.

Here is what I wrote a month ago about this proposal:

Things are always “bipartisan” when it comes to increasing spending, but I say wait a minute, there are questions to be answered and alternatives to be considered.
Over the same amount of time this maintenance backlog was accruing, how much was spent for land acquisition?  Where would the backlog stand if all the money for land acquisition had been spent on maintenance? And how much of that $11 billion is attributed to these new acquisitions?
Shouldn't there be a tradeoff here? No moneys for acquisition until the backlog is met? After all, lands that have a high priority for acquisition could still be acquired by exchange.

Further, we know there are many Parks that aren't really deserving of that designation. They are only there because a particular Rep. or Senator was in a powerful enough position to have them so designated.  We have a BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure Commission) to address this issue for military bases. Isn't it time we have a PRAC to review our national parks and monuments?

Congress should consider both of the above prior to establishing a permanent fund to increase spending for our park system. No additional land acquisitions until the backlog is completed and establish a Park Realignment and Closure Commission to carefully review each existing national park and monument.

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