On Senate Floor, Portman Urges Colleagues to Pass Bipartisan Restore Our Parks Act
WASHINGTON, DC – On the Senate floor today, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) discussed the Restore Our Parks Act, bipartisan legislation he authored with Senators Mark Warner (D-VA), Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Angus King (I-ME) that would help address more than half of the nearly $12 billion backlog of long-delayed maintenance projects at the National Park Service. The bill will do so by establishing the “National Park Service Legacy Restoration Fund” to reduce the maintenance backlog by allocating half of the existing unobligated revenues the government receives from on and offshore energy development up to $1.3 billion per year for the next five years. Portman urged the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to consider the Restore Our Parks Act as soon as possible so that he can work with his colleagues to pass it through both the Senate and the House of Representatives and send it to the President for his signature.
Transcript of his remarks can be found below and a video can be found here.
“One of the things I’ll be doing next weekend is visiting the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, and I’ll be touring the park, looking at what some of their maintenance needs are, talking to the park rangers. Cuyahoga Valley National Park is actually the thirteenth most-visited National Park in America. And you probably haven’t heard of it unless you’re from Ohio. But if you’re from Akron or Cleveland, you certainly know about it because it is kind of nestled right in between these two big cities. It gets a lot of visitors, a lot of school kids. It is an incredible park because it is really kind of a suburban/urban park as well as a rural park all at once. There is a lot of outdoor education going on there as well. There is a beautiful river that runs through it, the Cuyahoga River. There is also a train that can commute you back and forth. I will be there with Frank LaRose, the Secretary of State of Ohio. We will be doing a kayak trip down the river and again, looking at some of the needs that the park has.
“This leads me to a topic that I had hoped to discuss on the floor yesterday. But because of a string of votes we were unable to do so. I was going to be out here on the floor giving a colloquy with some of my colleagues, Senator Alexander, Senator Warner, Senator King, and others, and we were going to talk about the need for us to provide more repairs to our national parks. Unfortunately, Cuyahoga Valley National Park is one of those parks that’s badly in need of it. They have about a $48 million maintenance backlog. Now, what does that mean? It means that every year we do fund the parks, but we don’t fund these capital expenses that are needed. In the case of Cuyahoga Valley, as an example, there is a bridge that’s falling apart, an old railroad bridge that they use for pedestrian traffic now. They may have to close it off pretty soon. And every year that you don’t attend to this deferred maintenance, things get worse and worse. Think about your own home. If you stop taking care of the roof, what happens? You get a leak and then you have drywall damage and you have paint damage. So the federal government over time has not taken care of the parks, has not provided the right stewardship in terms of these longer-term deferred maintenance projects.
“Yes, we fund the naturalist programs, we fund the immediate needs of the park, but these more expensive items like deferred maintenance do not get funded. So my hope is that we will pass legislation to do that. For more than a century we have been blessed as Americans to have these national parks. And they are amazing. Some of you have experienced the majesty of the Yellowstones and the Yosemites of the world, the Grand Tetons. They’re amazing. There’s some more modest ones like the boyhood home of William Howard Taft in Ohio that maybe you don’t know as well. But they’re all important. A lot of them are focused on history in terms of the historic homes. There are now 84 million acres of national parks and historical sites. By the way, they attract over 330 million visitors every year. Think about that. More than the population of our country. Again we’ve got eight of those parks in Ohio. We’re proud of those. 2.7 million visitors go to Ohio’s national parks every year. And they’re part of our history, part of our culture.
“This $12 billion backlog of long-delayed maintenance needs is a real concern, though. $12 billion now. And these parks are treasures, but they’ve been allowed, unfortunately, to deteriorate to the point that some of the assets in these parks are totally unusable. So if you go to a park today, you may find out that the trail is closed or a visitor center can’t be visited. We have a visitor center in Ohio that had to be closed down because the roof was leaking. They didn’t have the funds to actually replace the roof. And they had funds to run the programs within the visitor center, but again these long-term maintenance problems are a real problem. You may find that some of the overnight lodging facilities aren’t available. In a way, our parks are sort of crumbling from within. They look good on the outside, but they have serious problems. I mentioned the fact that we have long-term maintenance problems at Cuyahoga Valley National Park. We also have that at others to the point of about $100 million in backlog.
“Last August I visited Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial on the shores of Lake Erie. This was established on Lake Erie to honor those who fought in the famous Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812 as well as to celebrate the now long-standing peace we’ve had between Great Britain, Canada and the United States. There I saw $48 million in long-delayed maintenance needs at the site. Primarily a seawall. There’s seawall on Lake Erie to keep Lake Erie from destroying this park and it’s cracking. There are actually sinkholes around it so you can’t walk near the seawall for fear of falling into the sinkhole. This is something that needs attention and needs it now. Think of the expense of that, replacing a huge seawall. It is about a $48 million project when you add to that, the need to make the visitor center accessible under the ADA, the Americans with Disabilities Act. So that’s an example.
“I mentioned President Taft’s birthplace. The house was in pretty good condition and unfortunately, it has some problems now. It has roofing problems that are necessary, about $2 million worth of repairs needed there. I visited Hopewell Culture National Historical Park in Chillicothe. There you see these millennia-old burial sites. These are, you know, from pre-Columbian times. And again, about $3.5 million in unmet maintenance needs at the site including repairs to the exterior of the visitor center that was absolutely needed, and you can see why when you go there because there’s construction signs in front of it, and you can go in the visitor center, but pretty soon you won’t be able to at all.
“Parks have a lot of issues that build up over time. This deferred maintenance is really important. We’ve got legislation to address that. And it is important that we do it now because if we don’t, the costs just go higher and for taxpayers it’s a good deal to move now to make these improvements so that the costs don’t compound and you make the situation even worse. And by the way, this is at a time when more and more people want to go to our parks. Visitation, over the last ten years, increased by about 58 million people. That’s putting a lot of pressure on the parks of course but it is good if people want to go to the parks. Again, a national treasure. It is a great place to go with your family. But we can’t keep the parks healthy through Band-Aids alone. We need this legislation.
“Along with my colleagues, Senators Mark Warner, Lamar Alexander, and Angus King, I spoke about earlier – two Republicans, one Democrat, and one Independent – we have proposed what’s called Restore Our Parks Act. It is a commonsense solution. Specifically, the legislation creates what’s called the Legacy Restoration Fund which will get half of all the annual energy revenues over the next five years that are not otherwise allocated to be used for these priority deferred-maintenance projects. This money would come from our royalties from our offshore and on-shore energy projects. By the way, the Trump administration is doing more energy exploration and development, so there’s actually more funding coming out of here. That funding, the royalty, would go to this purpose, to the extent it is not being used for other purposes. And the bill caps the deposits into the fund at $1.3 billion annually, which would provide a total of $6.5 billion for deferred maintenance over the next five years. You might notice that $6.5 is not quite the $12 billion we need, but number one, it’s a great start. Number two, we’ve asked the Park Service to give us a specific list of what are the most urgent problems and that’s about $6.5 billion. We’ll continue to work on this, but right now we need that funding badly because, again, if we don’t provide it, not only will the parks not be there for people to enjoy and certain assets off-limits, but also the costs only get higher and higher.
“It is an historic step in the right direction. Last Congress we proposed this legislation and we got a lot of support. We had a total of 36 cosponsors here in the United States Senate. More than one third of this chamber. There was a House bill also offered, companion legislation in the House. That actually got 233 members supporting it. So these are totally bipartisan approaches, over half of the House of Representatives. We also got it through the committee here in the Senate last year, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee passed the bill on a bipartisan basis by a vote of 19-4. We also, importantly, received support from all over the country. As people found out about this legislation, the people that love the parks stepped forward. It also included the Pew Charitable Trust, the National Parks Conservation Association, the Outdoor Industry Alliance, the National Trust for Public Land, and others. During the legislation hearing last year, the director of the Pew Trust agreed saying, ‘Supporting this bipartisan bill is a wise investment for our national park system and has overwhelming support from the American public, generates hundreds of thousands of jobs, and billions of dollars for the economy each year and provides access to world-class recreational opportunities and helps preserve our nation’s history.’ All true.
“So this is a critical piece of legislation that we can actually agree on here on a bipartisan basis. We urge that it be moved quickly. As we enter the August recess, a lot of my colleagues are going to go to one of our national parks, or more. Some of them live, as one told me recently, in the shadow of one of our national parks. Folks that live in places like Montana or Wyoming see the parks all the time. As I said, I’ll be at our national park, our largest single one in Ohio, Cuyahoga Valley National Park, and this is the time for us to see the parks, tour the parks, find out what the needs are and hopefully come back here to Congress in September and do something about this deferred maintenance.
“I want to urge my colleagues first on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, to take this bill up. Let’s mark it up again as soon as possible after the recess. Let’s not wait any longer until things get worse. I look forward to working with my colleagues to getting this legislation down on the floor of the Senate, to get it voted on, to have the companion bill that’s still being worked on in the House, voted on as well, and let’s get something done and send it to the president for his signature so we can ensure that these treasures, our national parks, are there for generations to come.”