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Bishop Re-Introduces Bipartisan Public Lands Bill As Maintenance Backlog Hits $17 Billion

Photo of a stairway at Arches National Park
Judy Fahys / KUER
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One goal of Utah Republican Rep. Rob Bishop's latest bill is to improve access to public land attractions in the national parks, like Arches shown here, and on other public lands.

Congress is dusting off last year’s plan to chip away at the rising maintenance and repair to-do list for the nation’s federal public lands.

Lawmakers in the House and Senate are re-introducing bipartisan bills to use energy-development revenues to reduce a $17 billion backlog, which includes everything from rebuilding crumbling roads to installing toilets and replacing rickety handrails on dangerous trails.

 

U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, unveiled the House version on Valentine’s Day, highlighting the nation’s love for public lands. The top Republican on the House Natural Resources Committee, he said visitor safety and enjoyment of national parks is at risk.

 

The Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act would create the National Park Service and Public Lands Legacy Restoration Fund. The fund would draw from as much as 50 percent of the revenue from energy development on public lands from 2020 through 2024. All types of energy — from renewables as well as from oil and gas mining — would generate as much as $1.3 billion a year.

 

“This fund would provide dedicated funding for the high-priority maintenance needs,” said Bishop in announcing the bill.

 

The law dedicates 80 percent of the fund to deferred maintenance projects across the national park. Ten percent would go to reducing backlogs at national wildlife refuges. The remaining 10 percent would be divided between the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the Bureau of Indian Education for maintenance backlogs at schools and other facilities.

 

Photo of crumbling redrock steps at Arches National Park
Credit Judy Fahys / KUER
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KUER
The redrock steps to a Delicate Arch overlook at Arches National Park have become unusable. Projects like these are on a long to-do list in the National Park System.

The National Park System has 417 units, which include the parks themselves, as well as national monuments and battlefields. A dozen are in Utah, with a total deferred maintenance backlog of more than $266 million. At Utah’s so-called “Mighty Five” national parks alone, the to-do list is nearly $102 million.

 

The concept has gotten broad, bipartisan support in Congress, with 92 members of the U.S. House of Representatives — nearly one-fourth of the House — listed as original cosponsors. A Senate version bill is expected soon, Bishop said.

 

The only Utahns in Congress who are not original cosponsors are newcomers Republican Sen. Mitt Romney and Democratic Rep. Ben McAdams.

 

Similar measures were introduced last summer but made little progress. Bishop is hopeful this time.

 

Marcia Argust, who leads The Pew Charitable Trust's American parks campaign, encouraged Congress in a web post to pass the legislation and restore the parks for future generations.

 

“Parks aren’t partisan,” she said. “They’re American.”

The National Park Service released a video last summer that highlights the challenge of preserving national parks around the same times as members of Congress introduced bipartisan bills to address the $12 billion maintenance and repair backlogs.

 

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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