President Trump has signed legislation that will allocate $9.5 billion to trim the long list of backlogged infrastructure maintenance projects at national parks and other federal natural-resources agencies. The measure also establishes a new mechanism to pay for the upgrades.
The bill, the Great American Outdoors Act—enacted on Aug. 4—has two major components.
It creates a new National Parks and Public Lands Legacy Restoration Fund, which will provide as much as $1.9 billion annually for five years for infrastructure projects at the National Park Service and four other agencies. [Vew text of legislation here.]
The new fund is supported by royalty payments to the federal government from onshore and offshore oil, gas, coal and renewable-energy production on federal lands.
The legislation, which gained strong bipartisan support in the House and Senate, also makes permanent the 56-year-old Land and Water Conservation Fund and fully funds it, at $900 million a year. The conservation fund will continue to draw on oil and gas royalties paid to the federal government.
[view 7/23/2020 ENR story on congressional approval of the legislation here.]
At the bill-signing ceremony at the White House, Trump said that the measure is "truly landmark legislation that will preserve America's majestic natural wonders, priceless historic treasures—and that's exactly what they are—grand national monuments and glorious national parks." He added, "This is a very big deal."
The next step in moving turning the bill’s funding into dollars for projects will be for the Interior Dept. to produce a report to Congress within 90 days, specifying projects that will receive shares of the new parks and public lands fund, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said in a press briefing.
The bill prescribes that 70% of the total, or as much as $1.3 billion annually, will go to the Park Service, which in 2018 estimated its infrastructure maintenance backlog at $11.9 billion.
The U.S. Forest Service will get 15% of the funding and the Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Indian Education each will get 5%.
The legislation also specifies that at least 65% of the overall $1.9 billion annual total will go toward non-transportation projects, such as buildings and water and wastewater systems. The other 35% will go for transportation projects, including roads, bridges, tunnels and parking lots .
Three of the four agencies involved are parts of the Interior Dept.—the Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Indian Education are parts of the Interior Dept. The Forest Service is part of the Agriculture Dept.
That Land and Water Conservation Fund was established in 1964 and also is supported by oil and gas royalties.
Bernhardt said 60% of the conservation fund's money will go to the federal government for acquiring lands for conservation and expanding recreational facilities.
The other 40% will go to state and local governments, also for land conservation and recreational facilities, he said.
The new law has a provision that the conservation fund's revenue will not be subject to annual appropriations.