U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) stated last week that Senate approval of legislation that will provide increased funding to reduce the maintenance backlog at our national parks, including the Smokies, is a good step toward helping rebuild campgrounds, trails and roads in our national parks.
“The funding bill passed by the Senate today includes increased funding to reduce the maintenance backlog at our national parks which will help restore campgrounds, trails and roads,” he said. “It is my hope the Senate soon takes the next step and passes our bipartisan legislation to help restore and rebuild our national parks by cutting in half the $11.6 billion maintenance backlog and would do more to restore national parks than anything that has happened in the last half-century.”
Earlier this year, Alexander, along with U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Angus King (I-Maine), introduced the Restore Our Parks Act, bipartisan legislation which could cut in half the nearly $12 billion deferred maintenance backlog in our national parks over the next five years.
The legislation is gaining near unanimous support, receiving praise from U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, the National Parks Conservation Association, the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Restore America’s Parks Campaign and the Outdoor Industry Association.
The Fiscal Year 2019 Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies bill provides:
- $13.1 billion for the Department of the Interior, which includes the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
- $425 million for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which will fund five projects in Tennessee — three at national parks in Tennessee; one project in the Cherokee National Forest; and one project, the Skinner Mountain Forest, which will help the State of Tennessee protect the upper Cumberland Plateau.
- $3.2 billion for the National Park Service, including funding for operations at Tennessee’s national parks, which include the country’s most visited national park — the Great Smoky Mountains National Park — and one of the country’s newest national parks — the Manhattan Project National Historic Park in Oak Ridge.
- $825 million for National Park Service facilities operation and maintenance and $364 million for National Park Service construction.
- $6.29 billion for the U.S. Forest Service, which includes the Cherokee National Forest in East Tennessee.
- $63 million for the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act, which provides loans for water and wastewater infrastructure projects.
Last week, the Senate passed four spending bills, including the Fiscal Year 2019 Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Act. On June 14, the Senate Appropriations Committee, of which Alexander is the 3rd ranking Republican member, approved the Fiscal Year 2019 Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Act, which is consistent with the spending limits included in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 approved by Congress, and signed by President Donald Trump, in February.