March 22, 2018
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Conservation group on Trump national parks fix plan: Show us the money

John Clarke Russ | BDN
John Clarke Russ | BDN
Acadia National Park trail crew workers Paul Jackson III (from left), Elan Gabel-Richards and Chris Fabian move more rock and dirt into place to repair trail erosion along Park Loop Road near Monument Cove in Acadia National Park in 2008.
By Nick Sambides Jr., BDN Staff

America’s oldest national parks advocacy group wants to know where the money that a bipartisan U.S. Senate coalition, including Maine Sen. Angus King, proposes to use to eliminate an $11.93 billion National Park Service maintenance deficit will originate.

The National Parks Conservation Association is waiting for details on how the initiative unveiled last week will generate as much as $18 billion to eliminate the maintenance backlog at national parks, spokeswoman Emily Douce said. Proponents said the money would come from revenue derived from the sale of energy produced on federal lands.

Supporters say that the bipartisan National Park Restoration Act, which is backed by President Donald Trump’s administration, would end decades of neglect by rejuvenating national parks hobbled by lack of maintenance funding. That would include Maine’s Acadia National Park, which has a maintenance backlog of about $71 million.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and Maine’s U.S. House members, Reps. Chellie Pingree and Bruce Poliquin, said they needed to study the bill more before committing to it.

It proposes allocating half of onshore and offshore revenues from energy production on federal lands over expected amounts that are not already allocated to other purposes. The money would go into the National Park Restoration Fund, which would provide mandatory funding for high-priority deferred maintenance projects at national parks, according to the proposal.

The bill proposes park maintenance allocations that start at $7.8 billion in 2018 and incrementally increase to $9.4 billion in 2027, its final year.

The bill does not detail the funding sources, but according to the Department of Interior’s Office of Natural Resource Revenue, the U.S. government collected almost $6 billion in revenues from royalties, rental costs and other fees from energy production on federal and tribal lands in 2016.

That includes coal, oil, natural gas, and hydrocarbon gas liquids and renewables production.

Revenues rose to $7.11 billion in 2017. Trump administration officials attribute the increase to greater lease sales totaling higher acreage, efforts to streamline permitting and reduce regulatory burdens and higher oil and gas prices.

Revenues had increased from about $9 billion in 2010 to more than $14 billion in 2013, driven by growth in offshore and onshore revenue during a time of relatively high oil prices, but they slumped in the following years. About $13 billion was collected in 2014 and $9 billion in 2015, according to the Department of Interior.

Douce said that her organization has “a lot of questions about where and how much money will be produced.”

“That is our biggest concern. Where are they going to get the money. It’s an overprojection, and if it is a projection, you wonder how far off they could be,” Douce added.

Senators backing the bill have assured the association that activities in sensitive areas will not increase, Douce said.

The association is concerned that Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke’s pledge to increase energy production on federal lands will bleed into the revenue created for the restoration fund, she said.

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