More than 200 members of Congress want America to fund maintenance at the national parks. Why don’t all of them? The Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act is a rare chance for a bipartisan win that lawmakers ought to prioritize.
Washington lucked out when it comes to national parks. Mount Rainier, Olympic and North Cascades are treasures that other states envy. Vast tracts of mountains, seascapes, forests and wilderness inspire awe and allow visitors to escape the rush of modern life right in our backyard.
Yet America has neglected Washington’s and most other states’ National Park Service sites. The backlog of deferred maintenance runs to $12 billion nationwide, including $428 million at Washington parks. Mount Rainier needs $186 million to catch up; Olympic, $127 million; and North Cascades, $23 million. The remainder is spread among smaller sites.
The Restore our Parks and Public Lands Act would allocate up to $6.5 billion over five years to begin fixing roads, historic buildings, recreation facilities and other infrastructure desperately in need of repair. The National Park Service would get most of that money, with smaller portions going to other federal land agencies with maintenance backlogs.
Best of all, the money wouldn’t come from taxpayers but from revenue generated by energy leases on federal lands and waters. Think oil, gas and coal extraction, and also renewables.
Americans love their national parks, perhaps too much. Millions of visitors take a toll on delicate ecosystems and decades-old infrastructure. Postponing repairs only makes matters worse.
The act is about more than preservation and repair, though. It’s also economic stimulus for communities that serve as gateways to the national parks, where visitors dine, shop and stay in hotels.
Last week, a bipartisan group of lawmakers from both the House and Senate held a news conference to push for passage. The group included Washington’s Rep. Derek Kilmer, who is one of the act’s most vocal supporters. Although most of the Washington delegation has signed onto the bill, Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray and Reps. Jaime Herrera Beutler and Dan Newhouse are missing from the lists of co-sponsors.
The Restore our Parks and Public Lands Act has bounced around congressional committees for months. Last year, Congress failed to pass similar legislation. America’s national parks deserve better. The money is there, the need is great, and the enrichment to the American spirit is incalculable.
The Seattle Times editorial boardmembers are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Brier Dudley, Mark Higgins, Derrick Nunnally and William K. Blethen (emeritus).