NPCA submitted the following letter to the Senate prior to an anticipated floor vote on December 19th, 2019.
While we are pleased with many components of H.R. 1865, we are deeply disappointed and alarmed by the implications of both that bill and H.R. 1158 for Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and adjacent communities.
We know that the House and Senate faced many difficult decisions. We appreciate the efforts to make sure our national parks and public lands are supported in the final conference agreement for HR 1865. Division D, for example, increases funding for national park operations and the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund. Divisions C and D also invest in the restoration and protection of landscapes around our parks. This will result in cleaner air and water, healthy wildlife, and the ability to adapt to our changing climate. Lastly, Division H makes needed investments in public lands transportation infrastructure. While we commend these investments, we remain deeply concerned by the failure of either bill to stop the destruction being caused by new border wall construction in Organ Pipe National Monument.
Division D of H.R. 1865 (Interior and Environment):
Funding for the National Park Service (NPS): NPCA commends the bill’s $155 million, 4.8% increase for NPS. Most notably, the bill includes a $24 million, 54% increase for the federal LWCF program, which will allow for land protections at natural, recreational and historic areas including Lewis and Clark National Historical Park, Cumberland Island National Seashore, and Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area. We hope the $74 million, 3% increase for park operations will allow parks to better meet needs and prevent the continuing erosion of NPS staffing levels. We also commend the level funding for the Centennial Challenge program, the needed investment in the deferred maintenance backlog and the sizable increases in other park accounts.
National Heritage Areas (NHAs): NPCA is grateful for the provisions in the Interior portion of the bill report that address the needs of five National Heritage Areas. The provision includes funding reauthorizations for Oil Region National Heritage Area (PA) and National Aviation Heritage Area (OH) and funding cap extensions for South Carolina National Heritage Area (SC), Last Green Valley National Heritage Area (MA/CT) and Erie Canalway National Heritage Area (NY). The reauthorizations and cap extensions make it possible for each of the five NHAs to continue receiving a modest but critical amount of federal funding via the National Park Service. Those federal dollars are then leveraged usually at a rate of three to one with non-federal, state and local partners to pay for educational and service programs that greatly benefit the people and economies these heritage areas serve.
EPA geographic programs: NPCA commends the $53 million increase for EPA’s geographic programs. In particular, we applaud the increases to the Chesapeake Bay Program, which provides critical funding to states in the watershed to control pollution and to manage runoff to continue progress to clean the Bay. This year’s funding at $85 million is a $12 million or 16% increase and the first increase since 2015. The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) has funded over 4,000 restoration and toxic clean-up projects across the region since 2010, enabling NPS to partner with local, regional, and federal partners to improve water quality, prevent beach closings and fight invasive species like the Asian carp from advancing in our lakes and streams. We commend Congress’ continued support for the region by increasing the GLRI to $320 million. The South Florida program is also increased by 50% to $4.85 million. These funds are specifically to monitor coral reef health, enhance seagrass monitoring in the northern estuaries, and enhance water quality monitoring in Florida Bay and Biscayne Bay.
Funding towards climate change and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): NPCA is grateful for the bill’s many investments in programs that can help address climate change, which is challenging the health of natural resources and the preservation of our cultural heritage. We particularly commend the increases for climate science and to manage the impacts of climate change on ecosystems. We are also grateful for the bill’s $207 million increase for the EPA, which is important for protecting the air and water in and surrounding our national parks.
Sec. 442—Chaco Culture National Historical Park: After the House took a strong bipartisan vote in support of protecting the landscape around Chaco Canyon in October, H.R. 1865 reasserts the need for protections in the region from oil and gas development while the permanent protection legislation awaits action in the Senate. More specifically, this provision ensures no funding shall be used for the development of oil and gas leases prior to the completion of a cultural resources investigation. Chaco Culture National Historical Park is a unique landscape that tells the story of one of North America’s oldest cultures; as such, its landscape warrants added protections and consideration prior to any development.
Sec. 426—Reprogramming Guidelines: Our concerns about the Department of the Interior (DOI) reorganization are many, as conveyed in numerous communications with Congress and DOI. The statutory reprogramming language sends an important message to DOI leadership that they cannot reprogram significant funds for a reorganization without the approval of Congress. While it’s disappointing the bill doesn’t appear to stop the damaging relocation of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) staff, we applaud both the absence of added funding for the DOI reorganization and both the congressional compromises and the commitment to federal employees that led to this provision. The reorganization is poorly justified and threatens the autonomy and conservation efficacy of public lands agencies. We are dismayed by the lack of information provided to Congress and the public, so are pleased at both the bill and report language that provide robust oversight.
Division C of H.R. 1865 (Energy and Water):
Everglades restoration: We applaud the increased funding for the U.S. Army Corps’ South Florida Ecosystem Restoration program. The totals of $200 million for construction and $5.45 million for operation and maintenance will allow for planning, design, construction, and operations of key Everglades restoration projects. Advancing projects such as the Central Everglades Project and Biscayne Bay Coastal Wetlands will result in cleaner water flowing to the national parks in South Florida while reducing polluted water flows that are causing devastating toxic algal outbreaks in Florida’s coastal waterways.
Division H of H.R. 1865 (THUD):
The U.S. Department of Transportation, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and related agencies (THUD) portion of the bill provides $70 million to the Nationally Significant Federal Lands and Tribal Projects Program to address large transportation projects in our national parks, tribal lands and other public lands. This program is important for addressing the national parks deferred maintenance backlog and has in the past provided funding for the Tamiami Trail in Everglades National Park and a road project near the north entrance of Yellowstone National Park.
H.R. 1158 and H.R. 1865: Homeland Security, Defense & Military Construction
These bills effectively greenlight the continued destruction of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and surrounding landscapes and communities in order to pave the way for the administration’s unnecessary and expensive border wall. Construction of a new 30-foot steel bollard border wall at Organ Pipe Cactus began in October and the resulting impact on the landscape are striking and devastating. This construction began using Department of Defense funding without congressional consent or direction and this appropriations process was the opportunity to stop the construction.
By providing an additional $1.375 billion in border wall funding though Homeland Security and no restrictions on the transfer of funds from Defense and Military Construction, Congress has effectively provided a stamp of approval to continue building a border wall that is already destroying one of our country’s most unique park landscapes. This is a failure of our commitment to protect all our national parks for the enjoyment of future generations.
There is no question that border security is vital to our country, which is why it’s so important we get it right. We need to look for solutions that are as unique as our landscapes and communities and to ensure the solutions we find don’t destroy the national treasures we’ve committed to protecting. A border wall is not the answer for our national parks or our border communities.
For More Information
Senior Director of Budget & Appropriations, Government Affairs