On Monday, President Donald Trump’s much-delayed, likely DOA infrastructure plan was released. It’s the latest incarnation of the administration’s priorities to turn federal lands into a national energy sacrifice zone.
Tucked into the $200-billion plan unveiled today are two particularly wild ideas. One is to pay for the $11.3 billion National Park Service maintenance backlog with money from increasingly easy to obtain fossil fuel leases, while the other is to allow Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke to approve pipelines through National Parks without Congressional approval.
In short, Old Faithful could soon be brought to you by Exxon if the Trump administration has its way.
The National Park Service’s maintenance woes have been well-documented. The roads, bridges, and tunnels that transport visitors through the nation’s wonders are in serious need of upgrades. The agency’s total budget is just $3 billion, but it needs more than $11 billion in updates to park infrastructure used by more than 300 million people annually. The Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages wildlife refuges across the country, also has a maintenance backlog, of $1.2 billion.
To cover the growing gap, the Trump administration has an idea: pay for it through fossil fuel and mineral leases on other federal lands. This is a Faustian bargain, given that more fossil fuel extraction would inevitably increase carbon emissions and with them, the impacts of climate change. Those impacts, like sea level rise and more severe weather, are already affecting parks, and the infrastructure needed to operate them.
Assateague Island National Seashore has already relocated some facilities due to rising seas, while Glacier National Park has found its infrastructure strained in shoulder seasons as more visitors flock to the park due to warming temperatures.
Addressing the maintenance backlog would help these and other National Park Service sites in the present, but it would do very little to prepare them for future climate change. Ryan Zinke also rescinded climate planning procedures last month across the Department of the Interior.
Then there’s the whole pipeline idea. As Mother Jones’ Rebecca Leber noted on Twitter, this infrastructure plan would give Zinke the ability to approve oil and gas pipelines through National Park Service lands.
Any pipeline in a park currently has to be approved by Congress. The Trump administration’s infrastructure plans claims this is “time consuming and delays construction of needed natural gas pipeline facilities.”
The National Parks Conservation Association warns that there are already pipeline proposals near eastern parks, but that it’s possible jewels in the West could be next in line for pipelines as the oil and gas spreads across federal lands. In a weird twist, pipelines through parks could pay for the maintenance backlogs at parks while ruining the landscape.