On Tuesday, March 20, the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on improving the infrastructure of the National Park Service (NPS), which included a legislative hearing on H.R. 2584, the National Park Service Legacy Act, introduced by Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX). NACo supports H.R. 2584.
H.R. 2584 would establish an NPS Legacy Restoration Fund that would allocate up to $500 million annually from unspent federal energy royalties to be used on repairs to the NPS’ deferred maintenance backlog. The bill would also give the U.S. Secretary of the Interior and NPS Director the authority to accept qualified private donations for needed repairs.
Currently, the National Park Service is unable to make crucial repairs to aging historical structures as well as thousands of miles of roads and trails, bridges, tunnels, sewers and drainage conveyances. The NPS deferred maintenance backlog was estimated at $11.6 billion in FY 2017, affecting almost every national park across the country. Failure to address this backlog in a timely manner will deter future visitation, harming local economies and putting a strain on community resources.
Marcia Argust, Director of the Restore Our Parks campaign at The Pew Charitable Trusts, testified during the hearing that three primary factors are to blame for the deferred maintenance backlog: aging infrastructure, rising visitation pressures and unreliable funding. This combination degrades an already overstressed infrastructure system within the NPS, causing the agency to fall further beyond in infrastructure repairs every year.
Counties are important partners in ensuring the success and vitality of the National Park System, which is a key economic engine for neighboring communities. Visitors to national parks in 2016 spent over $18.4 billion, supporting more than 318,000 jobs across the country. They also pay sales and lodging taxes to public lands counties. These revenues assist gateway county governments in providing essential services to residents and visitors alike, including law enforcement, search and rescue, waste management and infrastructure maintenance.
The National Park Service Legacy Act has bipartisan support, including 67 cosponsors in the House and 19 cosponsors in the Senate. It has been referred to two committees in the U.S. House—the House Natural Resources Committee and the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee--and the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee for consideration.