NPCA sent the following letter to the House Transportation Infrastructure Committee and the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee outling infrastructure needs in our parks and park landscapes.
We appreciate the investments provided in the committee’s bills last Congress, America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act and America’s Water Infrastructure Act, as an important step towards addressing the needs in our parks and park landscapes. We also support the Committee’s efforts to simultaneously work to address climate change causes and impacts, improve community equity, and spur economic growth as they relate to the jurisdiction of the committee. Given the need, we request the committee provide additional support in the 117th Congress to better align with the US House of Representatives INVEST Act and Moving Forward Act.
In summary, we make the following recommendations:
• Provide $5 billion to address the remaining national park deferred maintenance projects not addressed through the Great American Outdoors Act;
• Increase the Federal Lands Transportation Program funding to $400 million per year and dedicate $40 million a year from that allocation to alternative transportation projects;
• Increase the Federal Lands Access Program funding to $345 million per year and consider program modifications for a more equitable allocation;
• Increase the Nationally Significant Federal Lands and Tribal Projects program funding to $400 million per year with, at minimum, half dedicated to public lands;
• Reauthorize and significantly increase funding levels for EPA’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund, Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, and Sec. 221 Sewer Overflow and Storm Reuse Municipal Grants;
• Establish a competitive wildlife crossing grant program to provide $100 million per year to federal agencies, tribes, and states to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions, protect motorists, and improve habitat connectivity; implement new workforce trainings; standardize the collection of wildlife collision data nationally; and integrate wildlife-vehicle collision reduction as a qualified project in all relevant grant and funding streams;
• Prioritize projects that improve energy efficiency, advance decarbonizing the transportation sector, support climate adaptation, improve habitat connectivity, and improve ecosystem resiliency needs in parks and their broader landscapes;
• Support environmental justice by ensuring forty percent of applicable investments are prioritized for underserved and vulnerable communities;
• Preserve the protections and public involvement provided by our nation’s environmental laws, including the National Environmental Policy Act, Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act and Endangered Species Act.
Return on Investments
Fixing our national park infrastructure is a good economic investment for our country. National parks are an important part of the tourism economy and extremely popular with Americans. National parks received more than 328 million visits in 2019 that generated almost $42 billion for the U.S. economy. For every dollar Congress invests in the National Park Service (NPS), $10 is returned to the American economy, with much of that money directly benefiting parks’ gateway communities. With national parks supporting more than 340,000 private-sector jobs annually, these economic engines are worthy of a robust infrastructure investment in 2021 and beyond.
Infrastructure Repair Challenges Impacting Our National Parks
The NPS is second only to the Department of Defense in the amount of federal infrastructure it manages. In total, the agency is responsible for protecting and managing over 75,000 assets which include roads and bridges, trails, historic buildings, employee housing, wastewater and electrical systems, military fortifications, monuments and memorials, and seawalls. Needed repairs range from deteriorating water systems to crumbling roads and trails to antiquated visitor centers that are in desperate need of updating. For instance, nearly 40% of the 10,000 miles of park roads are in poor to fair condition.
While the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) will address up to $6.5 billion of the backlog, only one third of that may be directed to transportation projects. More is needed to address the remaining projects, both transportation and non-transportation projects. Congress has an opportunity to build on this investment by including $5 billion for national parks to address the remaining backlog project needs. The NPS staff have been refining facilities management systems the past several years and they are primed for additional funds for priority projects. Land management agencies should consider how projects support decarbonization, endure the impacts of climate change, provide opportunities to improve habitat connectivity, and withstand natural disasters.
Transportation Infrastructure: For transportation projects specifically, additional funding is needed for the Department of Transportation programs that support transportation and transit needs in and adjacent to national parks. The national parks received one half of one percent of the entire funding package in the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, but the demand is much more than that. In the National Park Service’s National Long-Range Transportation Plan, the agency estimates the funding necessary to address all transportation needs throughout the service is $1.5 billion a year for a 6-10 year period. Therefore, we support the following investments in the next surface transportation bill or infrastructure proposal for park transportation and transit needs specifically.
As updates are made, the agency should also replace and upgrade transportation and transit systems with zero-emitting vehicles and other decarbonization measures and repair and design new infrastructure to be resilient and adaptive to the changing climate.
Federal Lands Transportation Program (FLTP): The FLTP was established to support the transportation infrastructure owned and maintained by the federal land management agencies, including the NPS, US Fish and Wildlife Service and other land management agencies. In FY 2020, the NPS received $300 million from this program. NPCA requests increasing the FLTP program for parks to at least $400 million per year, providing jobs to repair park infrastructure.
In addition, our parks continue to face increased vehicle congestion that reduces the visitor experience and threatens natural resources. Prior to the FAST Act, the Paul S. Sarbanes Transit in Parks Program provided funding for alternative transportation systems such as shuttle buses, rail connections and bike trails. That program was subsumed into the FLTP with passage of the FAST Act, but the need to fund alternative transportation remains. Therefore, NPCA supports dedicating at least $40 million per year of the FLTP funds for alternative transportation projects that are carbon free to improve air quality and help address the climate crisis, but also help parks address congestion issues. Money in needed to operate these systems as well. We also support reinstatement of a program like the Sarbanes Program to support accessibility to parks, particularly urban parks, so these national treasures may be enjoyed by urban residents, particularly underserved communities.
Federal Lands Access Program (FLAP): The FLAP funds projects that provide access to, are adjacent to, or are located within federal lands. The FLAP funding enhances state and local funding for public roads, transit system and transportation facilities. FLAP funding is prioritized for projects in high-use recreation sites or are federal economic drivers. In FY20, the program received $270 million. NPCA requests increasing the FLAP funding to at least $345 million per year and ask the committee to consider program modifications for a more equitable allocation to better address urban park needs. FLAP is a critical funding source that provides incentive to state and local entities to provide additional dollars that improve roads and transit to and from national parks. We request that program criteria be modified from its current formula based on road mileage, number of bridges, land area and visitation to a formula that also favors less-visited urban sites rather than just high-use recreation areas.
Nationally Significant Federal Lands and Tribal Projects (NSFLTP): The NSFLTP program provides up to $100 million in annual appropriations for large projects exceeding $25 million and that are shovel ready. This has been a very popular and necessary funding stream for federal lands and tribes to address massive infrastructure projects needing a large investment at one time. In recent years, the program’s funding has been used for Natchez Trace Parkway, Yellowstone National Park and Tamiami Trail in the Everglades. The most recent award provided funding for the overdue replacement of the propane-powered Zion shuttle buses with cost-efficient battery-electric buses, which will cut down on air pollution in and around the park and ensure public access. NPCA supports increasing the NSFLTP funding to at least $400 million per year with dedicated funding with, at minimum, half of the funding dedicated to public lands.
Water Infrastructure: NPCA supports greater investments in water infrastructure in and beyond the boundaries of national park sites. 356 park units across the country work diligently to protect water resources, but the challenges they face are significant as their health is directly linked to the quality of the waters that surround, flow through, and rain down upon these sites. Despite the best efforts of NPS nearly two-thirds of these park units suffer from water quality impairments, failing to meet standards under the Clean Water Act.
NPS operates assets that provide drinking water to the 328 million visitors and treat waste and storm waters, a service critical to protecting the waterways upon which park flora and fauna depend. Beyond their boundaries, a nationwide need for significant investment in water infrastructure is impacting neighboring communities and the water resources our parks protect. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that waste and storm water systems alone need over $271 billion in capital investments over the next 20 years, with drinking water systems needing a staggering $473 billion. Many sites downriver and along our coasts are threatened by urban and agricultural runoff in addition to untreated human and industrial waste, toxic substances, debris, and other pollutants stemming from ageing or failing infrastructure and combined sewer overflows.
Investing in our nation’s water infrastructure would not only protect parks and public health but allow for important infrastructure upgrades improving the resiliency of our gateway communities, reducing maintenance and operational costs, and creating good paying local jobs during this economic crisis. We urge Congress to act quickly and lead a comprehensive federal response to the nation’s water infrastructure crisis by supporting:
EPA’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund: Reauthorize the EPA’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund at significantly increased annual funding levels. Codify the Green Project Reserve at no less than 20 percent, providing flexibility for technical support and incentivizing the use of resilient natural infrastructure. Expand additional subsidization, increasing grants instead of loans targeted at small and disadvantaged communities to help address the affordability crisis our most vulnerable and under resourced communities face.
EPA’s Drinking Water State Revolving Fund: Reauthorize the EPA’s Drinking Water State Revolving Fund at significantly increased annual levels. Expand additional subsidization, increasing ability to provide grants and zero or negative interest loans for small and disadvantaged communities.
EPA’s Sec. 221 Sewer Overflow and Storm Reuse Municipal Grants: Reauthorize the EPA’s Sec. 221 Sewer Overflow and Storm Reuse Municipal Grants at no less than $400 million annually. Reduce the non-federal cost share of these grants for financially distressed communities to help address the needs of small and disadvantaged communities.
Reduce Wildlife-Vehicle Collisions and Improve Habitat Connectivity in Park Landscapes
Visitors to America’s national parks, wildlife refuges, and other public lands many times travel to view iconic wildlife. We want to be sure both park visitors and wildlife are protected. The Federal Highway Administration estimates 1-2 million wildlife-vehicle collisions occur annually which result in 26,000 motorist injuries. The associated costs to motorists from wildlife-vehicle collisions is estimated to be $8.3 billion yearly in medical costs and vehicle damage. Notably, in rural states wildlife-vehicle collisions can represent 20% of collisions reported.
In addition to concerns around motorist safety, around the country roads are a leading contributor to decreased habitat connectivity between parks and adjacent lands. Ecosystems that lack habitat connectivity are less resilient to climate change. Every day in park landscapes across the United States, wildlife is on the move, and the most significant obstacle in their short or long migrations is often times a highway. Community-driven efforts are already underway around the country to minimize wildlife-vehicle collision for human safety and wildlife conservation. Congress has the opportunity to directly and decisively support and build on these efforts in an infrastructure or surface transportation bill by:
• Establishing a competitive wildlife crossing grant program to provide $100 million per year to federal agencies, tribes, and states to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions, protect motorists, and improve habitat connectivity;
• Integrating wildlife-vehicle collision reduction as a qualified project in all relevant grant and funding streams including the Surface Transportation Block Grant Program, the Bridge Investment Program, and the Nationally Significant Freight and Highway Projects, and relevant newly created program areas;
• Funding updated research into the causes and consequences of wildlife-vehicle collisions including expanded studies and reports to Congress;
• Providing workforce development and technical training opportunities focused on collision mitigation for federal, tribal, and state transportation and fish and wildlife professionals;
• Creating a standardized methodology for wildlife collision data to ensure the full need can be assessed and addressed.
Climate change represents the single greatest threat to our national parks. Some of the most iconic plants and animals living in national parks are on the brink of extinction, while many of our parks’ lakes and rivers are drying up, glaciers are melting, beaches are eroding, and historic structures and artifacts are crumbling. As part of any surface transportation or infrastructure bill, efforts must be made to continue to develop innovative, cost-effective, and sustainable strategies for constructing and managing federal assets, including those in our national parks. NPCA supports prioritization of projects that improve energy efficiency, advance decarbonizing the transportation sector, support climate adaptation, improve habitat connectivity, and improve ecosystem resiliency needs in parks and their broader landscapes. Projects should be avoided that undermine existing infrastructure, or perpetuate or worsen the threat of fire, erosion, flooding, wildlife habitat loss, and fragmentation. Below are a few recommendations.
Prioritize Natural Infrastructure and Climate Resilience: Natural and green infrastructure are critical measures for preventing sewage overflows, curbing runoff pollution, and providing flooding and tidal protection. These measures have considerable co-benefits - including building resilient aquatic ecosystems that provide flood prevention, groundwater recharge, wildlife habitat, cost-effective climate resilient infrastructure, and green space for communities. Congress should prioritize green and natural infrastructure projects such as wetlands and living shorelines in an infrastructure package.
Electrify the NPS Fleet: In the National Park Service’s National Long-Range Transportation Plan, the agency calculated that transportation activities accounted for roughly 35 percent of the service’s greenhouse emissions. Therefore, NPCA supports not only the development of a strategy, but a phased replacement of federal fleet vehicles, including National Park Service vehicles, with clean electric vehicles. The phased replacement of vehicles should not only include individual vehicles, but larger vehicles, such as trucks, buses and shuttles. Adequate charging station infrastructure should be installed for government vehicles, and for national park visitors’ vehicles. This replacement investment should be separate from the requests for FLTP, FLAP and NSFLTP funding above that is intended to address current transportation and transit maintenance needs.
Support Additional Measures to Reduce Vehicle Emissions: In addition to greenhouse emission from federal agency activities, park visitor vehicles are by far the greatest emitters of greenhouse gases within park boundaries. Emissions from fossil fuel-consuming vehicles also harms visitors and NPS staff, mars scenic vistas and damages natural and cultural resources. The National Park Service must invest in more alternative transportation infrastructure as appropriate (as detailed above) to help reduce the number of individual vehicles in our parks and gateway communities. It will not only reduce the carbon impact, and other harms associated with pollution, but these investments could help reduce overcrowding issues in some parks.
Beyond national park boundaries, NPCA supports nationwide fuel efficiency efforts and the speeding up of new zero emission vehicles and associated infrastructure in order to reduce climate and other pollutants at their source. NPCA supports consumer incentives such as refundable tax-credits or point-of-sale rebates for new or used zero-emission vehicles, grants, rebates, and improved tax-credits for new charging infrastructure and increased grant funding to electrify vehicles nationwide.
Supporting Underserved Communities
Federal investments for transportation and infrastructure must take into account the need to support underserved communities, including economically disadvantaged, tribal communities, and communities of color. To support a just transition for these communities, NPCA supports forty percent of applicable investments be prioritized for environmental justice with meaningful local job opportunities, pollution reductions, zero emission transportation options, public participation opportunities, low interest loans, focused infrastructure investments, etc.
As Congress works to address infrastructure and reauthorize the FAST Act, Congress must preserve the protections and public involvement provided by our nation’s environmental laws, including the National Environmental Policy Act, Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, Endangered Species Act, etc. According to the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), 95 percent of federal projects that require environmental review advance under a Categorical Exclusion (CE), and therefore are exempt from the most detailed types of environmental review.
In addition, a 2016 U.S. Department of the Treasury report identified 40 economically significant transportation and water projects whose completion had been slowed or put in jeopardy. The report found that “a lack of public funding is by far the most common factor hindering the completion of transportation and water infrastructure projects.” Further, the report found that delays resulting from environmental review and permitting were acknowledged as a challenge to completing less than 25 percent of the projects.
In summary, we support efforts to address our nation’s transportation and infrastructure needs, particularly as they impact our national parks. We strongly encourage the committee to build on the America’s Transportation Infrastructure, INVEST, and Moving Forward Acts and provide additional resources for our national parks, more aggressively address climate changes causes and impacts, greatly improve community equity, and spur economic growth. By investing in our national park infrastructure, our nation will be protecting it’s natural and cultural heritage and the ensure the American public continue to enjoy and be inspired by it.
For More Information
Deputy Vice President, Government Affairs