But would it be financially disadvantageous to certain southern states?
$11.9 billion worth of deferred maintenance has been delayed or postponed on national parks. These include transportation infrastructure such as roadways, tunnels, and bridges — and also trails, dams, fortifications, wastewater systems, and more.
The National Parks Service (NPS) proposed budget for 2021 recommends Congress create a dedicated stream of funding for the purpose, using the revenues from energy production such as oil drilling on federal lands.
What the legislation does
The Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act would do the same. The created fund would devote up to 50% of such energy revenues to a restoration fund devoted to national park maintenance, capped at $1.3 billion annually.
None of the funds could be used for land acquisition, and no more than 10% could be used for administrative expenditures.
Although the NPS is asking for such a dedicated funding stream in its 2021 budget for next year specifically, this standalone legislation would fund it for five years.
The House version was introduced on February 14, 2019 as bill number H.R. 1225, by Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT1). The Senate version — just shortened to the Restore Our Parks Act — was introduced the same day as bill number S. 500, by Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH).
What supporters say
Supporters argue the bill would provide a reliable and needed funding stream. Supporters also contend that there must be a reason it’s one of the most cosponsored bills in this congressional session.
“The overwhelming support for this bill puts it in a league of its own. There have been thousands of bills introduced this Congress and fewer than ten have garnered the support enjoyed by [this one],” Rep. Bishop said in a press release. “Our park system is riddled with hazards that threaten the safety of Americans and park visitors. This bill addresses those issues at no added expense to the taxpayer.”
“Let’s fix these things now so that the costs don’t compound. So it doesn’t become more expensive for taxpayers. It’s our responsibility, it’s a debt unpaid,” Sen. Portman said at a press conference. “This is about a national treasure, our national parks, and not allowing them to continue to see the kind of damage and corrosion.”
What opponents say
Some southern Republicans oppose the bill, on the grounds that it discriminates against their states under current revenue-sharing formulas.
“Right now, under federal law, if there’s energy produced within a state on federal lands — lands wholly owned by the federal government — that state gets 50% of the money,” Rep. Garret Graves (R-LA6) said in a committee hearing. “And they can do whatever they want with it. There are no restrictions, none.”
“In the case of our offshore energy production, what happens is the states — Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Texas — we get 37.5% of energy production revenue shared with us, but it’s just from production that was issued after December of 2006,” Rep. Graves continued. “So when you crunch the numbers — the year before last, for example — it comes out to 0.4% revenue sharing. Not the 50% the other states are getting.”
“Unlike the onshore energy production, where the money just goes to the state coffers and they add it to everything else, and do whatever they want, we [Louisiana] have agreed to commit every penny of the money to the restoration of our coastal ecosystem,” Rep. Graves went on. “This is our homes, our businesses, our communities, our ecosystem disappearing. Two thousand square miles, it’s equivalent to the state of Rhode Island disappearing.”
“To my environmentalist friends, all I’m asking for is to give us some equal treatment, some parity, so we’re not getting 0.4%. If we can get more of the revenue, we will agree again to invest every penny of it in ecological restoration and environmental projects,” Rep. Graves concluded. “Now, what this bill does, it takes the money [so] we can’t do that.”
Odds of passage
The bill passed the House Natural Resources Committee on June 25 by 36–2. (See page 29 of that linked PDF.) The two dissenters were the aforementioned Reps. Graves and Liz Cheney (R-WY0).
It now awaits a potential vote by the full House, where it has attracted 329 bipartisan cosponsors: 201 Democrats and 128 Republicans. That ranks as one of the most cosponsored bills.
However, a previous House version from 2018 attracted 233 bipartisan cosponsors: 135 Democrats and 98 Republicans. While less than the current version, that’s still more than half the House. Yet while it was also approved in committee, it didn’t receive a vote by the full House.
The current Senate version has attracted 49 bipartisan cosponsors: 31 Democrats, 16 Republicans, and two independents. It was approved by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on November 19.
But similarly, a previous Senate version from 2018 attracted 36 bipartisan cosponsors — 19 Democrats, 15 Republicans, and two independents — and was approved in committee. Yet it never received a vote by the full chamber.