GRAND CANYON, Ariz. — President Donald Trump released the proposed 2019 budget Feb. 12. The proposal contains a 15 percent cut to the Department of the Interior, which houses the National Park Service.
The budget provides about $11.7 billion and also includes a legislative proposal to establish the Public Lands Infrastructure Fund.
The Public Lands Infrastructure Fund will provide up to $18 billion to address the deferred maintenance backlog in national parks, national wildlife refuges and Bureau of Indian Education schools through funding from energy leasing revenues.
“President Trump is absolutely right to call for a robust infrastructure plan that rebuilds our national parks, refuges, and Indian schools, and I look forward to helping him deliver on that historic mission,” said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. “Our parks and refuges are being loved to death, but the real heart break is the condition of the schools in Indian Country. We can and must do better for these young scholars. This is not a Republican or Democrat issue, this is an American issue, and the President and I are ready to work with absolutely anyone in Congress who is willing to get the work done.”
Zinke said not all visitors to public lands have the ability to hike with a 30-pound pack and camp in the wilderness miles away from utilities, instead viewing national parks from scenic overlooks and short guided hikes on paved trails.
“In order for families with young kids or elderly grandparents to enjoy the parks, we need to rebuild basic infrastructure like roads, trails, lodges, restrooms and visitors centers,” he said. “Not since the 1950s has a President embarked on such a noble and ambitious mission to rebuild our National Parks.”
Conservationists are alarmed, however, calling the budget proposal a bait-and-switch: it offers $18 billion in funds for deferred maintenance, but those funds will come from extractive industries setting up shop on the very public lands their money is meant to preserve.
John Gardner, senior director of budget and appropriations for the National Park Conservation Association, said the president’s proposal demonstrates that the administration is actively working to undermine the national parks and the environment on which they depend.
“The Park Service’s $11.6 billion repair backlog is a critical problem that demands attention, but the administration’s proposal comes at too great a cost by undermining vital environmental laws and other public lands,” he said. “Caring for our parks means not only fixing their roads and buildings, but also protecting their air, water, wildlife and surrounding landscapes. And yet, the administration intends to dismantle bedrock conservation laws and take away the public’s voice in these decisions.”
The budget proposal would reduce national park staff by about 6 percent, which could mean up to 1,200 full-time employees. That means less rangers stewarding park guests as visitation climbs to all-time highs, Gardner said.
The Department of the Interior oversees one-fifth of the nation’s land and the entire Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). The Department is charged with overseeing energy development on federal lands and waters, grazing allotments and timber sales, water conservation and delivery, upholding Tribal trust responsibilities, conservation of wildlife and habitat, and maintaining access for recreation in National Parks and other public lands, among other priorities.
The budget proposal would also include a 25 percent budget cut to the Environmental Protection Agency. In addition to slashing the budget by 2.1 billion, the proposal would eliminate funding for state radon-detection programs, assistance to fund water system improvements along the U.S.-Mexico border and partnerships to monitor and restore water quality in the Gulf of Mexico, Puget Sound and other large water bodies. The proposal also eliminates the agency’s programs related to climate change and would gut funding used to prosecute environmental crimes and operate clean air and water programs.
Congress is not required to pass or even consider the budget proposal presented by the president – many of the cuts the president proposed last year in his FY2018 budget were never enacted by Congress.