NPCA submitted the following position to members of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works ahead of a hearing scheduled for May 26, 2021.
The National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) supports the Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act of 2021, particularly the provisions that pertain to national parks investments. If enacted, this bill would provide critical funding to repair roads, bridges and park transit systems to ensure millions of visitors can continue to experience and enjoy national parks. We also greatly appreciate that the bill includes measures that begin to improve resiliency of the nation’s transportation infrastructure to our changing climate and to help address the growing conflict between vehicles and wildlife. We urge any measures that weaken the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) are removed from the final bill.
For more than a century, our national parks have remained America’s favorite places, important pieces of our natural, historical and cultural heritage set aside for future generations to explore and enjoy. But as visitors enjoy our parks, they find the facilities in the parks have become worn and inadequate to meet increasing demand. The National Park Service depends on dedicated funding through the Highway Trust Fund to improve park transportation assets to ensure park visitors continue to enjoy our parks and that the park resources are protected.
In particular, NPCA supports funding increases to the Federal Lands Transportation Program (FLTP), Federal Lands Access Program (FLAP), and Nationally Significant Federal Lands and Tribal Projects Program (NSFLTP). These programs provide necessary funding to help address the billions of dollars of transportation maintenance needs, such as paved roads, parking lots, tunnels, bridges, transit systems throughout and provide access to the national parks. We encourage the committee to ensure that a portion of those funds support transit infrastructure to reduce emissions in and around our parks and to help reduce congestion.
NPCA appreciates the wildlife-related provisions included throughout the bill, including a $350 million pilot wildlife crossing grant program, provisions for updated research and technical training opportunities, and the inclusion of wildlife-vehicle collision reduction as a qualified project in existing grant and funding streams. The Federal Highway Administration estimates 1-2 million wildlife-vehicle collisions occur annually and the associated costs to motorists is estimated to be $8.3 billion yearly in medical costs and vehicle damage. The provisions in this bill will help reduce collisions and the associated costs to humans and wildlife.
NPCA is also pleased to see the inclusion of measures to improve the resiliency of roads and bridges to natural disasters and extreme weather events. We also support efforts to expand the incorporation of natural infrastructure in surface transportation design, particularly in our national parks.
Additionally, we are encouraged by the provisions to expand electric vehicle charging infrastructure throughout the country, with an emphasis on underserved and vulnerable communities, and NPCA encourages the siting of some of these charging locations in and around our national parks. Yet, we are disappointed the bill does not include support for replacing the federal fleet (cars, trucks, buses, shuttles), such as the National Park Service, with zero-emission vehicles. National parks are at the forefront of the climate crisis and should be part of the solution to tackling it.
However, we are concerned that there are numerous problematic provisions in this bill that seek to “streamline” or “modernize” NEPA and the federal environmental review process. NEPA is a critical conservation law that has made informed decision-making with meaningful public engagement a core component of every major federal action. These protections have ensured that the health of our environment and communities are consistently prioritized. From the cobbled carriage roads in Acadia National Park to the sweeping deserts of Chaco Culture National Historical Park, NEPA has protected some of our nations most treasured natural and cultural resources. We urge as this bill progresses, any provisions that compromise public input and protections for our nation’s air, water and wildlife be removed from the final bill.
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, $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.
This is a great starting point for national park investments which we hope Congress builds upon to invest in our national park transportation needs and provide solutions to modernizing the transportation infrastructure to address our changing climate, while protecting public input.
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Emily DouceDeputy Vice President, Government Affairs