Proposed bill could solve infrastructure problems at National Parks

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Every year, more than 300 million people visit National Parks throughout the United States.

U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt says the parks system needs more than $12 billion to make repairs to aging infrastructure and to fund a maintenance backlog that keeps growing.

A widely-supported bill that would reduce those costs is headed to the Senate, and might be exactly what National Parks need to keep up with tourism.

A bill to redirect oil and gas revenues from public lands owned by the Bureau of Land Management, passed a House committee last week.

H.R. 1225 has bipartisan support. Advocates say that's rare for bills relating to the oil and gas industry.

Montana Republican Representative Greg Gianforte was one of 92 lawmakers to introduce the bill, which now needs to pass in the Senate. Montana Democratic U.S. Senator Jon Tester is one lawmaker willing to take a closer look at the proposal.

Tester said: “The deferred maintenance backlog is wreaking havoc on our National Parks. That's why I've pushed back hard against the Administration's attempts to cut funding for the National Park Service. I'll explore any proposal that will help keep our parks beautiful and usable for future generations."

The National Park Restoration Bill would take half of the revenue the government brings in from oil and natural gas production on public land, and instead of going into a federal general fund, it would be used to address the needs of National Parks.

There's often confusion about the different types of public lands and where oil and gas leases are operating.

Aaron Johnson, VP of Western Energy Alliance, stated: “When we talk about public lands, there's protected lands like National Parks, and then there's other public lands that are managed by the Bureau of Land Management. There's sub-surface minerals for oil and gas that are managed by the Bureau of Land Management."

Oil and gas leases aren't operating in national parks, but mineral revenues generated from BLM managed lands would fund them.

Supporters say the parks are only getting busier, making maintenance costs rise. Close to home, Theodore Roosevelt National Park needs more than forty-seven million dollars to fix the park. Each year about six-hundred thousand people visit and rangers say the infrastructure and rapidly eroding terrain is feeling the strain. Just this year, two hundred feet of eroded hill-side has forced them to close down four miles of the scenic road.

"The whole hill-side is gone, so the road has to be completely re-engineered and re-build, and that's constant," said Eileen Andes chief of interpretation at Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Roads, trails, water systems, parking for visitors and other projects need attention throughout the park.

"I've been here for 10 years, and we've had road construction of one sort or another. Either paving or repairing damage every single year, and that's not going to stop as long as you have roads in the Badlands," said Andes.

A maximum of $1.3 billion every year would go towards parks across the country if the bill passed.

Currently, more than 292 representatives are sponsoring the bill, including North Dakota representative Kelly Armstrong. Of the 292 co-sponsors, 173 are democrats and 119 are republicans.