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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Budget for National Parks

Air Date: Week of

The National Park Service estimates that it will take $3.5 billion simply for the backlog of maintenance and rehabilitation needs in national parks. Congressman Ralph Regula, Republican from Ohio and chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee which funds the parks, speaks with host Steve Curwood about funding for the parks at the same time that tax cuts are being considered.


CURWOOD: Grand Canyon isn't the only national park faced with overcrowded and aging facilities. In Yellowstone last year, thousands of gallons of sewage surged into Yellowstone Lake from an overburdened and disintegrating sewer system. A bridge recently collapsed at Glacier National Park. There are broken safety railings at Golden Gate. And at the Delaware Water Gap, there's an unsafe bridge. Repair needs such as these are echoed at parks around the country. Park Service officials say they need about $3.5 billion to take care of the backlog of maintenance and rehabilitation. But Congressman Ralph Regula, Republican from Ohio and Chair of the House Subcommittee on Appropriations, which funds the parks, isn't sure that figure is accurate.

REGULA: I think their estimate's a little bit high. As a matter of fact, I've asked them to document for me the basis on which they have stated that they need a certain sum of money, and as yet we have not received any documentation. But let me say this: part of the reason we have this backlog in maintenance has been a management problem within the Park Service. Internally, I don't think they have focused enough on this over the past several years.

CURWOOD: Now, this is a budget year in which representatives are arguing over a healthy surplus. Tax breaks that have been proposed range from about $300 to almost $800 billion over the next ten years. In comparison to those kind of numbers, even a $3 billion tab to rehab the national parks seems like a small number. And the National Park Service is really considered the crown jewels of the US and a model for park systems around the world. Do you think Congress, with all the extra cash, with all the surpluses that we now have, could commit to protecting something so valuable to so many Americans?

REGULA: Well, we do commit a sizeable chunk of the budget, and we've given them the fee program to provide for extra efforts that they have in visitor enhancement, because the money they collect stays in the park that collects it. And that's been a change. That policy has been put in place during the past three years. And I would like to put more money in if it were available.

CURWOOD: So if Ralph Regula could set the budget amount for the National Park Service, what would it be?

REGULA: (Laughs) Well, it would be substantially more than we received.

CURWOOD: Three billion dollars?

REGULA: Well, I'm not talking in terms of dollars, because you have to keep in mind that our committee has a vast array of responsibilities, and I'm talking in a macro sense about the fact that we were allocated about $13.9 billion. So I have to say we'll do the best we can. Same thing with the parks and the forests and all these responsibilities. You're really trying to focus in only on the parks, but you're forgetting that there are a lot of other functions of government that are very important to people.

CURWOOD: Well, that's why we felt we'd ask these questions, though, because at a time when people are talking about massive tax cuts of huge surpluses, we just wondered --

REGULA: Well, I'd say they're talking about it, but the reality is I don't know how people can predict the economy ten years from now, and to say well, we're going to have this huge surplus over the next ten years.

CURWOOD: But you voted to support the $792 billion reduction, right?

REGULA: Well of course I voted to support it, because if you look carefully at it, some of it involves debt reduction. And it involves over a 10-year period, so that on a per-year, per-capita basis it's not a large amount.

CURWOOD: Overall, Congressman Regula, you feel that park funding is at an appropriate level? Doesn't really need an increase?

REGULA: No, it isn't at an appropriate level. And I think it's vitally important that we commit even greater resources to backlog maintenance, to make sure that when the visitor goes to the park or the forest or the public lands, that their safety is taken care of to the best possible degree, that they have good rest facilities, that they have facilities that address health needs within the public lands, and so that we ensure that the visitor to these marvelous assets, the treasures if you will, of this nation, have a good experience and a worthwhile experience. And we're trying to do that within the constraints of the allocation we received through the budget process, and what's available through the tax revenues of this nation.

CURWOOD: Ralph Regula is a Republican from Ohio, member of the House, and Chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior. Thank you for taking all this time with us today.

REGULA: Thank you.



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