WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) delivered remarks on the Senate floor highlighting his Restore Our Parks Act. Portman’s bipartisan legislation would help address the nearly $12 billion backlog of long-delayed maintenance projects at the National Park Service (NPS). The bill would 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. 

A transcript of his remarks can be found below and a video can be found here:

  

“Mr. President, I also want to talk about another important topic, which are our national parks. Our parks are an absolute treasure for our country. They are beautiful places, beautiful public lands. As important, they are part of our American culture and part of the history we have as a country and it is important to preserve that legacy. As an example, in Ohio we have the Wright Brothers shop and home in Dayton, Ohio. It stands as an inspiration to anybody who dreams big dreams because that’s what these two brothers did. You can see where these two Ohio brothers changed the world and otherwise, frankly, they lived a pretty ordinary life and preserving their home and that shop is really important to see that. Anybody can dream big and make a big difference. We have a responsibility to preserve that site and so many others that are important to our history for generations to come. 

“The National Park System includes more than 84 million acres of parks and historical sites that now attract more than 330 million visitors annually. It’s an amazing system. By the way, I was told yesterday that only one department or agency of the federal government has more assets than the national park, and that’s the Department of Defense with all of the military bases and all of the physical assets they have, otherwise it’s the parks. The parks have an enormous number of buildings, roads, bridges, water systems, and visitor centers and so on. And in my home state of Ohio, alone, we’ve got eight of those national parks, including Cuyahoga Valley National Park which is the 13th most visited park in the United States of America, we’re very proud of Cuyahoga Valley. Whether it’s biking or hiking or fishing or kayaking, I’m one of those 2.7 million visitors in Ohio’s national parks every year. In fact, the weekend after next I’ll be at the Cuyahoga Valley National Park with my wife enjoying that beautiful park. 

“So these parks are treasures and they have so many wonderful facilities, but the problem is that over time, we’ve allowed a maintenance backlog to build up, meaning so many of these buildings and infrastructure, roads, bridges, water systems I talked about are deteriorating to the point that some of them are actually not being used. So if you go to a national park, you may see that a trail is closed or a visitors’ center can’t be visited. You may see some of the facilities that provide overnight lodging aren’t available anymore. Why? Because our parks, frankly, are kind of crumbling from within. They may look great on the outside, and they’re beautiful, but there is now a $12 billion backlog of deferred maintenance at our parks. Now, this has become a real problem. By the way, that’s equal to nearly four times the annual budget of the parks. They just don’t have the resources to keep up with these deferred maintenance costs, which tend to be longer-term costs, more expensive, longer-term, frankly, not as interesting to fund. You know, it’s not as interesting for Congress to fund fixing the roof on the maintenance building at Yellowstone National Park as it is to set up a new nature program for visitors. So this has become a problem. And you think about your own home. If you allow deferred maintenance to build up, you don’t take care of the roof, for instance, what happens? You get a leak in your roof. And then you find out the drywall is ruined or the paint is ruined or the floor is ruined. And the costs mount up. That’s what’s happening in our parks right now. And when maintenance projects aren’t completed on time, it’s called getting delayed or getting deferred. That’s what we’re focused on. 

“By the way, nearly two-thirds of that deferred maintenance is attributable to our national parks’ aging infrastructure. So this would be, again, roads and bridges and buildings and so on. The national parks just celebrated its 100th birthday in 2016. So a lot of us were very excited about that. A hundred years of these beautiful national treasures, but many of the facilities across the country, therefore, are very old. A lot are more than 80 years old. Some are almost 100 years old and a lot are in need of repair, badly in need of repair. 

“Visitation at our parks has increased in recent years. This has added to this burden. It’s not only that there were deferred maintenance costs, things being put off, but with more and more visitors, there’s more and more pressure on the parks. From 2006 until 2017, 10 years, in that period alone, annual visitation to our national parks increased by more than 58 million people. That’s a good thing. To me it’s a good thing. More people getting outdoors, particularly families taking their kids outdoors and enjoying the parks and learning more about nature and about our history. But it’s put more and more pressure on the parks. The challenges of keeping up with this aging infrastructure and increased visitation has stretched the Park Service thin and required them to focus on just the very immediate maintenance needs they have--and postponing or delaying these projects that can’t be completed on schedule. We can’t keep our parks in peak condition through band aids. 

“Some of this will require years of work and planning that goes into it, which requires certainty and consistency about funding. When you do the annual appropriations process here, as you know, it’s year to year. You don’t know how much money you’ll get. Sometimes we have to cut back. They need to know there’s going to be some funding there, some certainty to be able to make some of these much needed repairs to our parks. Unless we take action, of course, it’s just going to get worse. We talked about that, when you don’t deal with deferred maintenance, it tends to build up and become worse. The $12 billion backlog is increasing at a rate of about three percent per year. That’s because, as the experts told us, it’s a compounding issue, meaning maintenance projects that go unaddressed often create these other problems. It creates more cost to repair. The spike in visitation at national parks over recent years puts more pressure on them, and the longer we wait, the more expensive it gets for the taxpayers, better to move now to address these maintenance needs than to wait as they become more and more expensive. 

“When roads, bridges, parking lots, pathways decay, people are not able to visit those sites often. Again, some are even shut down. I mentioned that there were 330 million people a year that visit our parks. There are also 330 million people, therefore, that are spending money around our parks. So it’s a huge economic driver. For those listening who come from states like mine where we have big national parks like Cuyahoga Valley National Park, those communities really want to be sure that we continue to have vibrant parks and that people continue to want to visit and can visit in order to get the broader economic benefit. This is important all over the country. 

“In my state of Ohio--where we don’t have the big parks like Yellowstone or Yosemite but we have some great parks--in my state of Ohio alone, there’s more than a $100 million in overdue maintenance. In Cuyahoga Valley National Park, there’s more than $45 million of backlog. Completing these long-overdue projects will make a big difference for the visitor experience. The needed maintenance includes, at Cuyahoga Valley for example, $875,000 for badly needed renovations for the welcome center. I’ve been there. I’ve seen it. They need the help. $274,000 for renovations to a shelter, $6 million in renovations for roads, parking lots to ensure people have parking, water infrastructure improvements which, you know, water infrastructure not maybe the sexiest project to support but a really important one, really important that we ensure that we have this infrastructure in place. It’s the conservative thing to do. 

“Helping our Park Service has long been a priority of mine and dealing with this backlog as well. About 12 years ago when I served as the Director of the Office of Management and Budget in the George W. Bush administration, I launched in our budget something that President Bush and Mrs. Bush were strongly supportive of which was a Centennial Initiative. Again, thinking the centennial was coming up in 2016, 10 years later, we wanted to put in place the idea to be able to use public-private partnerships to fund the parks. We were successful in getting some of that started, but frankly the Congress did not pass the legislation to do it, but I continued that effort when I was here as United States Senator as co-chair of the Congressional Friends of the National Parks for its centennial. 

“I authored a bill that we set up in 2006 that finally created this endowment fund to be able to take private-public partnerships. Part of it is with the park and part of it is with the National Park Foundation. That bill called the National Park Service Centennial Act was signed into law during the year of the National Park Service’s centennial anniversary and the two funds together that were codified in that law have now provided more than $200 million to address maintenance backlog. By the way, more than $125 million of that has been private dollars, non-federal dollars. Again, the idea was to provide a federal match to encourage more people who loved the parks to be able to contribute. We did better than the legislation required which was a one-to-one match, $200 million total, $125 million of which comes from non-federal sources. That funding helps. I’m proud of that. Frankly, as I mentioned earlier, a $12 billion backlog, maintenance backlog, requires even more. And as soon as we’re able to do that, we need to do it because the costs are just going up. 

“I recently authored legislation with three of my colleagues, senators Mark Warner, Lamar Alexander, Angus King, two Republicans, one Democrat, one Independent. It’s called Restore Our Parks Act. The bill now has eight additional cosponsors, both Democrats and Republicans, and I’m hopeful that many more of my colleagues will join us as well. The legislation is the product of bipartisan agreement on consensus legislation that combines two similar bills that were already introduced. One was with Senator Warner and myself, one with Senator Alexander and Senator King. 

“The Restore Our Parks Act is a common-sense solution to this $12 billion in long overdue projects and ensuring that we can do the maintenance to keep the parks up to speed. It creates a 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 priority deferred maintenance projects. This is funding, this is royalties on offshore leases, let’s say, and onshore energy projects. Some of the funding goes to Land and Water Conservation Fund, will continue to go there. These are funds that are otherwise are unobligated. The bill caps and deposits into the fund at $1.3 billion a year which would provide a total of $6.5 billion for deferred maintenance projects at our parks over the next five years. It’s not the whole amount now but it’s historic. We’ve never had this much funding being put into the parks at this time, and, again, it provides that certainty to know it’s going to be there year after year and for this purpose only. About two-thirds of those funds will go towards buildings, utilities, visitor facilities and about one-third will go to transportation projects like roads and pathways. Through simply using funds that the government is already taking in from these on and offshore energy development projects and not depositing them in the general Treasury, we can cut our national parks’ long overdue maintenance backlog in half. This is exciting because about half of these projects, about $6 billion of the $12 billion are what the Park Service calls urgent projects, urgent priorities. So we will at least be able to have the certainty to know the funds will be there for the larger projects that need to get done and certainty that we’ll never find through the end of the appropriations process. 

“We’ll be able to get some of the bigger, longer-term maintenance projects done to be able to restore the beauty of our parks where needed. The legislation is broadly supported, the Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke and Trump administration support it. I want to thank Secretary Zinke personally because he has really committed himself to this issue. When he went through the confirmation process, we talked about the maintenance issue at the parks. Like every good fiscal conservative, he said this needs to be addressed and addressed now. Otherwise it’s going to get worse and worse. Instead of adding more to the parks, giving them more responsibilities, let’s be better stewards of what we have. I agree with that philosophy and commend him for that and for his support and help to ensure that the administration supports it. Mick Mulvaney, the OMB Director, has also been very helpful to ensure we can use this funding source and they are supportive of it. We have support from so many outside groups. I can’t name them all but I want to mention the National Park and Conservation Association, they’ve been terrific as has Pew Charitable Trust. So many other groups, the Outdoor Industry Association, many more have endorsed it. 

“Just yesterday we had a hearing on this legislation in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks chaired by Steve Daines from Montana, who is one of the cosponsors of this legislation. And again, Steve Daines is a guy with a personal passion for the parks, having grown up in the shadow of Yellowstone Park. We had experts, we had conservation groups, all voicing their support for this legislation at our hearing. The director of the Pew Charitable Trust said it well, she said, ‘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 recreation opportunities and helps preserve our nation’s history.’ Deb Yolanda, who is the CEO of the Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley National Park and also, by the way, president of the National Association of all the Friends Groups for the parks said, and I quote, ‘supporters of our national parks across the country are thrilled with this bill. Addressing deferred maintenance will greatly improve the visitors experience and go a long way toward protecting important historic and natural resources at our parks. This bill makes sense. It will help make our national parks even better for the hundreds of millions of visitors every year who take in their beauty and their history.’ 

“I urge the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources to approve this bill quickly. I know Senator Murkowski is a strong supporter of our parks and as chair of that committee, I know she will be supportive of moving forward, same with Maria Cantwell, the ranking member. And I hope the full Senate will vote on this legislation soon and vote on it now so that we can move forward quickly. We want to make the second hundred years of our national parks as magnificent and successful as the first hundred years has been. This bill is necessary to be able to do that. And I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting this legislation.” 

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