Daines backs bill to fund national park maintenance

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A hiker looks at the snowy Lake McDonald Lodge last week. (Chris Peterson/Hungry Horse News)

America’s National Parks face an $11.3 billion maintenance backlog. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., and a group of other lawmakers have a proposal to fill it.

The National Park Restoration Act would deposit a portion of revenues from energy production on federal lands into a fund for upkeep and repairs.

Several senators and representatives from both parties are backing the bill. They joined Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke in presenting the bill Wednesday morning. In a press release, Daines described it as “a commonsense step forward to ensure that the challenges facing our national parks are finally addressed.”

Each year, the federal government collects billions of dollars in royalties from oil, gas and coal production. Last year, about $4.6 billion of these funds were disbursed to state and tribal governments and various conservation programs, and the remaining $2.5 billion was deposited in the U.S. Treasury.

Under the National Park Restoration Act, programs and disbursements already appropriated for would continue to receive funding. But half of all energy revenues beyond that would be deposited into a National Park Reclamation Fund that the Secretary of the Interior could use for maintenance.

The amount deposited will depend on energy revenues over the next decade. According to information provided by Daines’ office, the bill is capped at raising $18 billion over 10 years and would sunset after either 10 years or depositing $18 billion in the fund.

This isn’t the government’s only idea to feed the cash-starved park system. In October, the Department of the Interior proposed a sharp fee hike during peak season at several high-traffic national parks, including Glacier, drawing criticism from both Daines and Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont.

According to a statement from Daines’ office, the senator believes that if his proposal is passed into law, the pressure for a fee increase would be reduced. The National Park Service, which is considering that proposal, could not be reached for comment.

In an emailed statement on the bill, Tester said that “Yellowstone and Glacier are in desperate need of upgrades and Congress has a responsibility to ensure our National Parks are around for future generations. I will take a hard look at all ideas that responsibly address our massive maintenance backlog that don’t involve doubling entrance fees for ordinary families.”

Reporter Patrick Reilly can be reached at preilly@dailyinterlake.com, or at 758-4407.

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