Restore America's Parks

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Lawmakers from both parties have put forward legislation to help restore America’s national parks. In 2016, Congress passed and President Barack Obama signed the National Park Service Centennial Act, which provided a mechanism to generate up to $50 million annually to address deferred maintenance at park sites. Congress is now considering other legislation to partially fund an $11.3 billion repair backlog:

National Park Service Legacy Act

In spring 2017, Senators Mark Warner (D-VA) and Rob Portman (R-OH) and Representatives Will Hurd (R-TX), Derek Kilmer (D-WA), Dave Reichert (R-WA), and Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI) introduced the National Park Service Legacy Act (S. 751 and H.R. 2584, respectively), bipartisan legislation to help restore our deteriorating park infrastructure.

The Legacy Act would establish a federal fund to provide dedicated annual resources to restore national park infrastructure. By providing consistent, reliable funding to address overdue maintenance, the measure would help protect our natural and historic treasures and ensure that local communities continue to benefit from park visitor spending.

The bill would:

  • Establish a federal National Park Service Legacy Restoration Fund to draw down the national park maintenance backlog.  
  • Be financed using revenue from oil, gas, coal, and other mineral operations that is not already allocated to other programs.
  • Ramp up over time to address high-priority deferred maintenance needs:   
    • $50 million a year in fiscal years 2018-20.
    • $150 million a year in fiscal 2021-23.
    • $250 million a year in fiscal 2024-26.
    • $500 million a year in fiscal 2027-47.

The legislation would stipulate that:

  • 80 percent of the fund would be used to repair and rehabilitate National Park Service (NPS) sites, including historic structures, visitor facilities, trails, water utility systems, and assets that affect disability access, health and safety, and recreation.
  • 20 percent of it would be used to restore transportation-related infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, and tunnels.  
  • Funds could not be used for land acquisition or to replace discretionary funding for NPS facility operations and maintenance needs.
  • Congressional authority would be protected by requiring that proposed maintenance projects be reviewed by appropriate committees.
  • The fund would promote public-private collaboration by prioritizing projects supported by private donations.

Bill status

The Senate bill was referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Its House companion bill was referred to the House Natural Resources and House Transportation and Infrastructure Committees.

Land and National Park Deferred Maintenance Act

Representative Mike Simpson (R-ID) introduced the Land and National Park Deferred Maintenance (LAND) Act in June. The bill addresses the chronic underfunding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and deferred maintenance by providing dedicated annual money for conservation and repair needs on lands under the jurisdiction of the Interior and Agriculture departments’ four land management agencies. The funds would come from onshore and offshore mineral revenue that is not already dedicated to existing programs. Established in 1964, the LWCF finances federal and state land acquisitions to preserve public lands and natural resources.  

The LAND Act would:

  • Establish the National Park Service and Related Agencies Maintenance and Revitalization Conservation Fund, to be administered by the Treasury Department.
  • Make available $450 million a year from 2018-24, which would support critical infrastructure and visitor services:
  • Reauthorize the LWCF through 2024 and provide:
    • $180 million for federal LWCF.
    • $220 million for financial assistance to states for the Forest Legacy Program, the American Battlefield Program, and cooperative endangered species grants.
  • $25 million for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
  • $25 million for the Bureau of Land Management.
  • $375 million the National Park Service.
  • $25 million for the U.S. Forest Service.

Bill status

The legislation was referred to the House Natural Resources, Budget, and Agriculture committees.

The Energy and Natural Resources Act

In June 2017, Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA) introduced the Energy and Natural Resources Act. Part of this bipartisan legislation would help address the $11.3 billion maintenance backlog at national park sites. 

The bill would:

  • Establish a National Park Service Critical Maintenance and Revitalization Conservation Fund to be used for high-priority infrastructure repairs and services for visitors.
  • Authorize $150 million a year from Outer Continental Shelf oil and gas revenue to be directed to the fund.

The measure would also permanently reauthorize the Historic Preservation Fund and the Land and Water Conservation Fund. 

Bill status

It was referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Adopted legislation

National Park Service Centennial Act

President Barack Obama signed the National Park Service Centennial Act into law Dec. 16, 2016.

The measure:

  • Established the Centennial Challenge Fund, which matches private donations with public dollars on a one-to-one basis for projects identified by the secretary of the interior. Deferred maintenance projects are prioritized.
  • Created a National Park Foundation Endowment from gifts, bequests, and a portion of the funds generated by raising the price of the senior lifetime pass.
  • Raised the senior pass fee to generate about $25 million for the Centennial Challenge Fund and about $10 million for the endowment annually. A public-private match provision could generate another $25 million for the fund each year.