WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, at a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks hearing, Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) delivered opening remarks thanking his Senate colleagues for their support of 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. Chairman, thank you so much for having this hearing and for cosponsoring this legislation and for your passion for the parks. As you have told me, you not only grew up in the shadow of Yellowstone, but you continue to frequent it. To Senator King, I know about your passion for Acadia, [National Park] and I’m going to challenge you on whether Cuyahoga Valley National Park has more visitors per capita, which is snuggled in between Akron and Cleveland, Ohio. It’s the number 13 most visited park in the country. It’s not big, but it’s mighty. 

“Let me just say, today we’re here to talk about this legislation and to get your input, and we really appreciate it. I want to thank all the organizations represented here and others who couldn’t be here who have worked with us the past couple of years to get us to this point. More importantly, this is a kumbaya moment in that we’re coming together and that doesn’t happen easily in this place. And it doesn’t mean that it’s over, by the way, we have a lot of work to do to get this enacted into law, as the Chairman and Ranking Member were saying. But we would not be at this point if not for some compromises and frankly sacrifices that some members have made to move this process forward. 

“I just want to acknowledge two quickly. One is Senator Alexander who introduced legislation with Senator King that the administration was supportive of and has been willing to work with us, again, to come up with this legislation that I think meets the needs that Senator Warner and I had laid out over the last couple of years, but does so in a way that I believe the administration will be able to support, right, Ms. McDowall? And then second, and I really want to be sure that you all understand, Mark Warner came to me a couple of years ago to say, ‘hey, I know you guys have been trying to work on this issue of deferred maintenance and you’ve done a little bit here and there like with the Centennial Match Program’ which is my legislation, which helps, but frankly it’s hundreds of millions, if not billions, which is needed. 

“This was really Mark Warner’s idea and so he’s here to talk a little bit about it today, but I want to thank him for his willingness to take this idea and then mold it into something that could actually get passed into law. Not all senators would be willing and able to do that so I want to thank him personally for his commitment to this, and then to all my colleagues for their support and long-standing interest in the parks. 

“There is nothing more important to our natural legacy than keeping these parks in pristine, good condition. That’s our problem, we do like to expand the parks, we do like to add more responsibilities to the parks. We’re not very good with dealing with the infrastructure needs of the parks, and in my own state of Ohio, we have about $100 million backlog. Although we are not as big as some of you in terms of our parks, that’s a lot of money and we can simply not find it, even with the friends groups and other work we’ve tried to do with our matching funds. 

“We have to have this legislation, and I agree with what Chairman Daines and Ranking Member King said. This has nothing to do with taking money away from Land and Water Conservation Fund or any other purpose. It has to do with funding that would otherwise go to the Treasury and redirecting it is sort of an urgent need that we have. Frankly, if it’s a $12 billion shortfall, which I believe is roughly accurate, we’re going to get about half way there in five years. We’ve got more work to do, but this is going to enable us to address the most urgent needs. I really appreciate the fact that everyone has come together to get to yes.” 

Portman also questioned key stakeholders on their views about the dangers of letting deferred maintenance prolong. 

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

 

Portman: “First of all, the testimony was superb and I think you raised all the good points. The one thing that I thought was very interesting is you all seemed to be focused on this issue of certainty. We had a hearing here in April that some of you attended, and we asked all the witnesses to talk about what the most important single aspect was to getting at deferred maintenance and you talked about certainty so that you can plan. You talked about large complex projects, Ms. Argust, because it’s a compounding problem. In other words, if we don’t deal with it…talk about that for just a second if you would, what do you mean by a compounding problem?” 

Marcia Argust, Director, Restore America’s Parks, Pew Charitable Trusts: “Yes, the longer that deferred maintenance occurs without addressing it, the more costs are going to continue to increase. One example is Ebenezer Church, for example, a Martin Luther King, Jr. historic site. That roof has not been addressed. There are leaks in that roof. Water gets into the roof, it gets into the walls, then you have issues with the plaster, then you have issues with the paint. So, if you don’t address that issue right away, you’re going to have cost with other repairs that are happening.” 

Portman: “That’s a really important point to make, particularly to our fiscally conservative colleagues. We all consider ourselves fiscal conservatives, I assume, but this is the right thing to do. You mentioned the conservation ethic, Ms. Fretwell, this is part of being conservative about it. With regard to certainty, I’m going to put you on the spot here, Ms. McDowall, but you remember there is a cap in here of $1.3 billion, it’s also the 50 percent, but some might argue, ‘well, how much certainty is there in that?’ If you look historically, the $1.3 billion will be based on the last 10 years. But you could also look prospectively and say ‘what’s likely to be the royalties?’ Isn’t it true that there are plans to continue to use our natural resources in this country, this administration in fact seems to want to expand that if anything, so there seems to be a high certainty there would at least be the funding available that has been there over the last several years?” 

Lena McDowall, Deputy Director, Management and Administration, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior: “Yes, not of course knowing the details on projections moving forward, but yes.” 

Portman: “No, but I think that’s a point to be made and so I think there is certainty here of the kind that we’re looking for. You also talked about, Ms. Fretwell, the need for us to have some sort of a fund, almost an endowment, and I really look forward to seeing your testimony where you talk more in detail about it that you submitted for the record. But you’re right, one thing people have not noticed in this bill is that we actually do provide for some rate of return, which is very unusual in government. And I think this is a positive aspect of it. So we’ll be able to allow the Park Service director to be able to set some funds aside and get more funds to be able to address some of these long-term problems. So it may not be the full endowment you’re looking for, but it’s a step in the right direction.” 

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