Appropriators fret over NPS budget woes

Posted: Apr 17, 2013

Written by

Jessica Estepa, E&E News PM

Worries on both sides of the aisle about the National Park Service's financial health surfaced today during a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing.

Democrats focused on how sequestration is affecting agency operations, from the required furloughs of U.S. Park Police officers to the upcoming busy summer season for Maine's Acadia National Park. Republicans asked how the agency could tackle its $11 billion maintenance backlog and whether there were other ways it could find cash.

Park Service Director Jon Jarvis, meanwhile, emphasized that his agency would protect "America's best idea," even as money continues to fall short.

"I do believe that history doesn't stop just because we have a budgetary problem," he told the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Subcommittee.

Jarvis made the case for the service's $2.6 billion request for fiscal 2014 (E&E Daily, April 11).

The funding request, which is $56.6 million more than the 2012 enacted level, reflects both the agency's priorities and the "difficult decisions" it had to make, he said. Those priorities include park operations, land acquisition, state assistance, and urban parks and recreation recovery.

Working to the service's advantage, he said, is the general bipartisan support that the agency has been given at a time when most issues before Congress, especially when it comes to the budget, are divisive.

"I was struck by the cordiality of all the members," John Garder of the National Parks Conservation Association said after the hearing. "Their hands are tied because of the larger dysfunctionality in Congress, but there is a bipartisan desire to support national parks."

Ranking member Jim Moran (D-Va.) said the quality of park visits is threatened by budget cuts. But he expressed optimism over what could be done if fiscal conservatives and government program advocates can compromise.

"I do think this new fiscal year 2014 budget request turns the page on the sequester and begins to move the National Park Service forward again," he said. "I hope that we can reach a negotiated agreement. ... Until there is, discretionary programs like the Interior Department, and the Park Service in particular, are going to suffer until we reach that kind of accommodation."

Chairman Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) echoed Moran's comments, saying that there would be some "difficult decisions" ahead but that he and other lawmakers want to protect "America's crown jewels."

Simpson particularly focused on the potential for other funding solutions outside appropriations that may help the agency. He pointed out that groups discussed ideas at a forum last month, including the possibility of raising fees at national parks (E&ENews PM, March 19).

Jarvis said the agency's fee authority expires in 2014. The service receives $150 million to $160 million from its fees annually and has included a reauthorization for charging fees in its budget request.

"If we had the opportunity, we would make some adjustments to that fee with legislation," he said. "But at a minimum, it needs to be extended."

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