Under GAOA, the oil and natural gas industry has paid for critical infrastructure projects that help improve the visitor experiences for families and individuals while conserving the lands. For example, Yellowstone National Park received $270 million, Blue Ridge Parkway received $183.6 million, and Yosemite National Park received $99.5 million for trails, roads, and other infrastructure projects in the past two years.
However, these conservation programs have been mismanaged under President Biden. Recently the National Park Service announced that maintenance backlog costs across the 423 parks have grown from $13 billion to $21.8 billion. The agency has been unable to explain to media and lawmakers how this happened.
The root of the problem lies in growing inefficiencies at federal agencies. A recent congressional oversight hearing revealed numerous problems within Interior and the park service including the growing costs to administer the program, conduct environmental reviews, and complete projects. More and more funds that should be spent in the field are being squandered in Washington, D.C. on paperwork and bureaucracy.
Making matters worse, the Interior Department encourages overcrowding of national parks. Excessive demand from millions of tourists strains facilities and infrastructure. By expanding the number of free days at national parks, waiving critical entrance fees, and running marketing campaigns, Interior draws in even more visitors without offsetting the costs.
Looking ahead, public lands face a double whammy. President Biden’s ongoing efforts to stop federal oil and natural gas development not only raises energy prices for Americans, but also threatens the billions of dollars the industry provides to maintain and conserve national parks and other public lands. Unless these policies are reversed, we’ll soon see this critical revenue stream dwindle as federal oil and natural gas production declines.
Unfortunately, officials at Interior refuse to even acknowledge the pending threat. When pressed by lawmakers in oversight hearings, agency staff skillfully dodge the questions and fail to offer any meaningful solutions. They can’t explain why in just a few years the costs for public lands infrastructure projects have ballooned eight times the inflation rate.
Great American Outdoors Month is a time to celebrate and recreate. But it’s also time to hold our public land agencies responsible for managing public lands in a way that accommodates today’s visitors while ensuring the long-term viability of the lands. Otherwise, future generations may not have the outdoor opportunities we do.