SALT LAKE CITY — Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke will tour Utah’s iconic Zion National Park on Monday and get a close-up look at some of the $65 million in backlogged maintenance needs.
His visit includes a roundtable discussion with Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, who is sponsoring a bipartisan measure to fund park maintenance using some of the royalties from energy development on public lands.
“Money that is generated on public lands should be used to maintain public lands,” Bishop said.
The Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act, endorsed last week in the House Committee on Natural Resources that Bishop chairs, enjoys broad bipartisan support with 169 co-sponsors.
The bill is co-led by the committee’s ranking member, Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz.
The National Park System is reeling under a staggering $11.6 billion in deferred maintenance needs. In Utah, national parks and monuments’ maintenance needs are $266 million, with roads, bridges and restroom facilities in need of repair or replacement.
“It is very easy to create a park and put land in the government state, but another thing to come up with a way to actually maintain it,” Bishop said.
The legislation aims to take the excess revenue generated from all forms of energy development that is not already allocated to other programs.
Bishop said the annual allocation would be capped at $1.3 billion over a five-year period, satisfying concerns by Democrats that the measure will not incentivize energy development.
“It won’t solve every issue right away, but we will have some money coming in at a steady pace,” he said.
Bishop estimates if the program had been in place this year, $6 billion could have been directed to take care of maintenance needs at the nation’s parks and monuments.
The money also will help fund needed maintenance throughout the nation’s wildlife refuges and address backlogs within the Bureau of Land Management, he added.
Those excess royalties would be harnessed from both onshore and offshore energy development of fossil fuels, as well as renewable energy like wind, solar and geothermal.
As it stands now, excess money is deposited into the general fund for other appropriations, Bishop said.
Multiple groups have come out in favor of the proposal, including the National Parks Conservation Association, the Pew Charitable Trusts, the America Outdoors Association and the RV Industry Association.
Frank Hugelmeyer, president of the RV group, said the $50 billion RV industry is growing at record levels, but overnight stays at National Park Service campgrounds are decreasing dramatically.
Those visits were at 4.5 million in the 1980s and have dwindled to 2.5 million in 2017, he said.
Bishop said Monday's roundtable discussion on the bill, which includes park officials and community representatives, will occur at the park itself and also involve a tour of Utah’s most-visited national park.
Reps. John Curtis and Chris Stewart, R-Utah, will also be there.