Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s fiscal 2019 budget proposal calls for Congress to create a fund of up to $18 billion that would pay for repairs and maintenance to national parks and wildlife refuges.
The fund would be paid for by new leases for energy development on onshore and offshore federal lands. It also would finance schools under the Bureau of Indian Education.
The national park system has an $11.6 billion maintenance backlog, Zinke said, half of that involving roads in the parks.
“This is a significantly different budget than last year,” Zinke told reporters Monday. “We a putting an emphasis on rebuilding our national park system, making sure our greatest treasures are protected. This budget is all about rebuilding our park system and will use our energy holdings to pay for it.”
Overall, the Trump administration’s budget proposal would give the Interior Department $11.7 billion in funding, slightly more than the $11.6 billion it proposed for fiscal 2018. Congress never implemented the Trump administration's 2018 budget proposal.
The Trump administration's proposals are less than the $13.5 billion Interior budget enacted in fiscal 2017.
The Interior Department employs 70,000 people at more than 2,000 locations and manages 530 million acres, or about 20 percent of U.S. land.
Last year, the National Park Service proposed to more than double visitor fees for 17 popular national parks to pay for the repairs and upkeep.
But Democrats and national park groups criticized the proposal, arguing Congress or the administration should pay for the maintenance at national parks, not visitors. The plan has not been implemented.
The Coalition to Protect National Parks, an advocacy group of 1,200 current, former and retired employees of the National Park Service, criticized Zinke’s new plan to use money raised from energy leasing to pay for park fixes, saying that it shows his preference for fossil fuel drilling on federal land and waters.
“Our national parks face real and significant challenges that threaten the integrity of the national park system,” the coalition said. “If the president and his administration sincerely want to address these challenges, they must start by adequately funding them and developing policies that support the mission of the National Park Service. Increased funding for parks must not come at the expense of other public lands and waters that would be irreversibly damaged if the administration's budget and infrastructure plan come to fruition.”
Zinke told reporters it's not a "conflict of interest" to fund the park repairs with energy development lease sales, arguing he doesn’t favor one energy source over any other.
“It’s not a conflict to use offshore or onshore [funding],” Zinke said. “That’s why we have a [environmental review] process. I am not oil and gas centric. I am American energy centric. We do it better than anybody with safety and reliability.”
But critics noted the plan includes cutting nearly 2,000 National Park Service jobs, compared to 2017 levels, at the same time visits to national parks are at record levels.
The budget also provides $18 million for Zinke's reorganization of the department. He said Interior plans “within the next couple of weeks” to share with governors his reorganization plan, moving key offices from Washington to Western states.