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tv   Senate Energy Natural Resources Hearing on Public Lands Management  CSPAN  June 26, 2019 8:09am-10:04am EDT

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>> with glacier national park totaling $131 million and yellowstone national park which we share with wyoming, i think the senators of wyoming say it's more than a share, they have most of it in wyoming, that backlog is growing close to $600 million. i wouldn't be surprised if that number perhaps goes up even higher. if left unchecked there will be impacts in our outdoor economy, there will be impacts to our gateway communities like gardner, like cook city and like others. thankfully congress is working together and taking action again with this bipartisan restore our parks act, and i'm grateful
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ranking member on the subcommittee angus king and i and the rest of the committee are working in a truly bipartisan fashion to put legislation forward that would bring a solution to this problem. i hope we can pass this out of committee soon and ultimately send this to president trump's desk. but it's going to take more than just one to fix this issue. mr. cameron, yellowstone park just finished the rehabilitation of the canyon overlooks and trails which helps facilitate more access to this incredibly beautiful area. there are many more projects in montana that increase public access and the one yellowstone to improve the safety of employee housing. the question is how does the national park service prioritize these projects? is it random? do you have a system in place that prioritizes safety and access projects like the ones in montana over others? >> senator daines, i thank you for that question. i know secretary bernhardt was delighted to bring the vice
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president out to yellowstone last week. and you're right, the scale of the problem is enormous, not just in montana, wyoming, but nationwide as senators on the committee have observed. the parks service has a long established priority system with multiple complex variables to set priorities, they've been following this process for quite a long time. public health and safety, employee health and safety and visitor access are all the priorities. i would be happy to, you know, submit for the record a detailed description of the park services' rather complex and well thought out ranking process. >> that would be helpful. thank you. and how do we facilitate more partnerships with federal agencies, for example, like the d.o.t. or private groups like the montana conservation corps to address the maintenance backlog in the parks? >> so volunteer organizations, nonprofit organizations, state and local government partners
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are really important contributors to the challenge. i suspect that there are some tax-related bonding issues that might get in the way of public-private partnerships in terms of private sector financing, there are potentially challenges with who manages the construction contract, as was mentioned earlier, whether the federal acquisition regulation applies. so those are things that could be -- could be explored to make public-private partnerships more effective and more common. as i mentioned a couple minutes ago before you were able to join the hearing, the bureau of reclamation has an interesting model where local water districts manage most of the infrastructure on reclamation projects and perhaps that's a model we might want to explore. the commissioner of reclamation would not want me to miss the opportunity to point out she has
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an issue in the bureau of reclamation as well. >> speaking of backlog, i want to talk about the forest service. it also has a growing backlog. montana has the second largest share with $459 million in deferred maintenance. this can have a major impact on montana's outdoor economy estimated to be around $7 billion annually. a recreation community is already facing trail closures in forest plans across the state for bureaucratic and litigation reasons and is adding insult to injury when the forest service also closes trails and access because they aren't able to maintain them. ms. lago, i've heard concerns from private as well as public groups that are willing and able to provide trail maintenance and other services that the red tape and bureaucratic process can be burdensome and they disincentivize these partnerships. what is the administration doing to streamline the process to ensure that these groups and these coalitions can volunteer to help address this backlog? >> thank you, senator daines.
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and you're right, volunteers and conservation organizations are very important to help us keep up with needed maintenance. last year we had over 1900 ftes, that's full time equivalence volunteering in the trail program alone. we just couldn't do it without them. in the past year we've worked at stream lining and improving our agreements process so for us to work together with somebody that wants to do project work, we need some kind of instrument, agreement, and we've had inadequate and inconsistent training across the agency for people who knew what type of instrument to use, that's some of the red tape folks are telling you about. but we have added capacity in our agreements staff, streamlined training and made it available online. so we're working hard to meet people where they are who want to help us do those maintenance projects. >> thank you. >> thank you, senator. senator heinrich.
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>> first i want to thank the chair and the ranking member for holding this hearing and in particular for including the bureau of land management, the u.s. fish and wildlife service, the u.s. forest service, as well as our national parks. i think a lot of people are aware of the parks backlog, but the vast majority of outdoor recreation economic activity in many of the western states actually happens on nonpark service public lands. i want to touch on what senator daines raised for just a moment because one of the biggest problems in terms of limiting volunteers and activities that can really help leverage what the agencies can do is the lack of staff that are actually assigned to help volunteer groups and private organizations do that work. you know, today outdoor recreation is the single largest driver of activity on our public
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lands, but our assignment of staff is stuck decades in the past and we've seen this in many places in new mexico where there is real willingness to get on the ground and do something, but there's no one assigned at the staff level to facilitate that. mr. cameron and ms. lago, what are the forest service and the department of interior doing to change that? >> senator, i appreciate that question. if we can identify specific instances we would be delighted to look at those individually. across the board the secretary has made it clear that he's interested in promoting partnerships with nonprofits and state and local governments and we're eager to perhaps more effectively communicate that message and that -- the need to actively engage with volunteer
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groups. volunteers provide roughly 10,000 fte worth of activity at interior. >> i realize that. so what i'm suggesting is that we look at the number of people who are assigned to traditional activities, whether that be grazing permits, forest management, oil and gas permits and compare that with how many were actually assigned to facilitate permits and also public-private partnerships to help facilitate some of this. ms. lago? >> sure. i just want to completely agree that as people who want to partner with us have gone up and up and up the staff available for those programs has gone down. part of the reason for that is over the last ten years, you know, we get our budget in program funding, fire is a program, recreation is a program, grazing is a program and as we have had to devote more of our budget to firefighting, the budgets in those other programs have decreased. i think with the fire funding
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fix we are going to be -- >> yeah, that's exactly where you should be going because we have actually, you know -- this committee worked very hard to fix the fire bar situation and as an agency you need to take advantage of that -- >> agreed. >> -- to be able to fund those positions. ms. lago, can the forest service afford to maintain the road system you have today? >> no, i think the answer is no, not 370,000 miles of road. we don't open all of the road system to passenger travel, only about 18% is open. >> right. >> about 30% is what we call put to bed, it's blocked off and not accessible, but we keep it because we can potentially need to open it for firefighting or some kind of emergency access, but, no, we don't -- >> which is why travel management is so important as you try to address these infrastructure needs. ms. wahl, i want to ask you, has
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your organization ever done analysis to figure out how much additional annual economic output or economic activity would be leveraged if our public lands were fully capitalized, if the campgrounds were all open, if the trails that are on the maps today were open, if the basic infrastructure, the bathrooms in yellowstone and the things that we hear about, if all of that was fully capitalized, do we have any idea what that would mean for additional economic activity? >> thank you. we certainly don't have an idea of what the total of that would be, but we have great anecdotes and stories of just a campground that the tennessee valley authority partnered with p3, it was closed, no revenue, no economic activity in the local community. this p3 partnership opened the campground, it's at full capacity every day it's open in the year. so not only is, you know, the economy and this rural community benefitting but certainly the
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forest service and the tennessee valley authority because they are actually getting money from this contract. so we have examples of that all across the board, it would be great to see, you know, the full breadth of that. >> and i suspect that story could be replicated time and time again in state after state after state. i'm out of time, but i want to point out the fact that the north american model of wildlife conservation is the envy of the world because for the better part of a century hunters and anglers have put their am unwhere their mouth s they stepped up and taxed themselves to say if we don't do this we are not going to have a sustainable resource. i think we might owe it to ourselves to start having that conversation around outdoor recreation as well. >> i will join you in that conversation, senator. senator lee. >> thank you, madam chair. there are a lot of things the federal government does, a lot of them are unpopular, of the most unpopular parts of the federal government you probably have the irs, even more
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unpopular congress whose approval rating seems to hover these days between 9% and 11% making it less popular than fidel castro in america. >> it depends on whether they poll immediate family. >> exactly. >> it could be worse. >> yeah, it might even be worse in some of those polls. but one of the few things the federal government does that is popular exists in the national park service. people love their national parks, they want to be able to use them, they don't want to see them threatened. so many are concerned, particularly in states like mine where we have a lot of national parks that are national treasures, people are concerned when they hear about the maintenance backlog and the fact that 62% of the public lands' backlog can be found within the national park service, that's of concern to them. we will start with you, mr. cameron. would you agree that under certain conditions the public interest might be better served
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by finding ways to fund the backlog and to make sure that we maintain adequately our national parks? would you agree with that as a general statement? >> i certainly would, senator lee. i think we need to look at any and all options and seriously consider them. >> would you agree with me that there are some lands that have been identified as suitable for disposal by the federal government? >> yes, senator, general services administration runs an annual process to try to identify those. >> do you have any sense as to what kind of revenue could be generated if that land were disposed of? >> not off the top of my head. i think the estimates are probably in the single billions of dollars, but i don't know the latest estimate from gsa. >> okay. that is a large sum of money
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certainly. do you know how often the blm evaluates its lands for their suitability for disposal? >> so blm has a regular planning process on district by district basis on a cycle. memory serves me correctly, i believe it's a five-year cycle. >> okay. do you have any idea approximately how many acres of land have been deemed suitable for disposal? >> no, i do not, but i'm happy to provide that for the record. >> okay. would you agree that under certain circumstances it might make sense to sell some of that land in order to be able to keep up with the maintenance backlog in order to overcome it? >> no the general services administration has a process in place for divesting of federal land and federal assets and at the tail end of the process it can be solve, yes. >> ms. lago, how about you, do you know how many acres of land approximately the forest service
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has identified as suitable for disposal? >> i don't believe we have authority for disposing of land. we have authority to convey facilities and the land associated with it, but we don't typically dispose of land. we use it for advantageous land exchanges where we're trying to block up ownership or obtain some critical wildlife habitat or connectivity or something like that. >> okay. so you're saying there is no regular evaluation of forest service land to consider whether all of it needs to be under federal ownership? >> that's right. >> mr. cameron, let's get back to you. across all the federal land management agencies, compliance with federal regulation contributes to the massive maintenance backlog. the very same backlog that we are here to discuss today. when your agency estimates the cost of a project, do you separate the costs of regulatory
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compliance from the rest of the costs of construction? >> senator, i don't believe we do that. we take for granted that we have to comply with the federal acquisition regulation, we take for granted that we have to comply with davis bacon act where it applies, for instance, and various other constraints. i would point out that the national star preservation act can sometimes produce some challenges. if we need to try to reproduce concrete the way it was made in the 1720s that can be a lot more expensive than the way it's made now. >> yeah, i've heard, you can't just get that at the home depot. would there be a way of calculating that breakdown, either on the -- it seems to me that it would be helpful if you could calculate that cost either on an individual project level or in addition to that also having it on the maintenance backlog level as well. so that we can figure out what percentage of the maintenance
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backlog generally is attributable to regulatory compliance and what percentage of the cost on any particular project is attributable to the same. >> senator, i know we've done some thinking along those lines. what i'd like to do is respond for the record and try to give you a more accurate and complete answer about how we might approach that. >> okay. i see my time has expired. thank you. thank you, madam chair. >> thank you, senator lee. senator king. >> madam chair, i also want to thank you and the ranking member for this hearing on this really important project. i'm sitting here thinking about politics and partisanship. this is probably the most conservative bill before the congress in every sense of the word. conservative because we're literally conserving, we're pro protecting something that has handed to us by our forefathers and mothers and predecessors, but it's also conservative because it's all about paying down debt. it hasn't been mentioned so far today, but deferred maintenance
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is debt, just like it's debt on the balance sheet and i think once it's looked at that way it eases, it seems to me, some concerns that have been expressed about this bill. we are not adding to debt, we are actually diminishing our national debt because these problems will have to be taken care of some day and when they are it will be more expensive. so there's interest on the debt. so i think that's why this is so important and i'm so glad to see that there's bipartisan support for these various bills. number two, one of the reasons this is urgent for me is i did a little calculation, i looked at the top ten national visited parks, the most visited national parks, the top ten and their acreage. it's a very interesting calculation of visitors per acre and that is a proxy for pressure on the park. really interesting. great smoky mountains, most have
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visited national park in the done try which was surprising to me by a factor of two, 21 people per acre. 21 visitors per acre. zion, 29. more typically yosemite 5.3, yellowstone 1.8, acadia national park in maine 74 people per acre. in some cases 10 or 20 times the visitation. so that's why this is an urgent problem for me because our park is being loved to death. it's an absolutely wonderful place and that's why all those people go there, 3.5 million people a year to one park in one state that has a population of 1.3 million. so almost three times the population of maine goes to acadia national park every year. so this is an urgent priority both in terms of our responsibility to our predecessors, but also our responsibility to the people of america that enjoy these wonderful places. this has been a great hearing because it's been exactly what a hearing is supposed to do, some
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good ideas. i love the matching idea. i'm an original co-sponsor of the restore our parks act. we have a program in maine, the land for maine service project. the first bond issue was $35 million. we spent 30 or $38 million buying the fee on just putting in dollars and buying t the next seven preserved more land than the first 30 because we finally figured out about matching and conservation easements and other things than just simply buying the fee. i think matching is a terrific idea. there is as you've testified there is a philanthropic community that's very interested in this and we can basically make our money go further. i think that's a very important concept. public-private partnerships, again, make our money go further. volunteers, people that want to spend a summer in the national park. give them free accommodations in exchange for working five hours a day on trails. i mean, there is no end of
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opportunities here. ms. wahl, i like your idea about fix the fee generating places first. if you have places that are generating fees and they are not operating, fix those first because then you get some additional revenue. so far if you can find a question you're welcome to it. i haven't gotten to a question yet. but your testimony has been so helpful and succinct and i do believe that we have to talk broadly about the forest service and bureau of public lands, but i don't want to lose the focus on the national parks. i don't want the best to be the enemy of the good. we have a solid bill with a lot of support in both the house and senate from the administration and i understand, madam chair, we are looking forward to a possible mark up on the restore our parks act in the foreseeable future. that's a pretty indefinite term. that was indefinite enough to get a nod from you, i appreciate that. but i just -- i think what we're
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talking about here today is so important to the american people. mr. puskar, perhaps you can touch on the idea of matching and other ways to make our money go further. >> well, i think especially when we talk about acadia, a park founded on private citizens coming together to give of their land to even create this in the first place. >> it helps when one of the private citizens is named rockefeller, but we won't go there. >> but you're absolutely right, but a lot of them aren't named that. the number of people supporting the friends of acadia these days is astronomical and it's not just the rockefellers, god love them, thank god they were here for us when they were, but it's the folks that want to say, hey, i want to be here, i want to give my entrance fee money, but then i want to do a little bit more. i'm going to become a member of the friends of acadia. the opportunity for matching, i do think it is absolutely essential.
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we know that there is a philanthropic component to being interested in our public lands writ large. we know this, but incentivizing it, especially when the challenge is so big and when we know we have a model that already works seems to be a no-brainer for ensuring we move forward productively not just for the park service, but it's certainly been a dream of mine, wouldn't it be amazing if we took advantage of the amazing challenge cost sure authorities that u.s. forest service, blm, fish and wildlife services already have and provide more dedicated opportunities with that framing like we've done with the centennial. >> if you have thoughts -- >> we would love to work with you on that. >> these be in touch with my office. thank you, madam chair. >> thank you, senator. on friday i took the opportunity to take my young interns, there were 12 of us, and we went over to theodore roosevelt island.
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it was a day of service with the parks service, and we spent about, i don't know, four hours cleaning up the island there. they wouldn't trust us with any chain saws, but we did have rakes and wheelbarrows and it was a good reminder to me of the volunteer effort, but at the same time i looked at the volunteers who had come for that one day, and that's a pretty small little island and recognizing the level of visitorship that it receives and you almost feel like you just can't make a difference because the need is so great and there is so few of you, but if you take that approach we're never going to get anywhere. but it is a reminder of the great partnerships that are out there that exist, we just need to replicate them about another
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363 days out of the year. so how we work to do that is going to be important. let's go to senator mcsally. >> thank you, madam chair. thanks to all of our panelists. welcome supervisor archuleta, great to see you here, proud that you are representing arizona in this conversation. we are so proud that we have the grand canyon in our state, which is this amazing treasure that brings people from all over the world. i was actually up there for the easter sunrise service this year with my mom and ended up being a bucket list type of event. so we know the importance that these treasures have, not just so people can come experience places like the grand canyon, but it's for eco tourism and for our communities and you know right well as a gateway community how important that is. can you elaborate more on the importance of the pipeline project, getting completed as soon as possible, and the implications should it not be
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completed, because of what's, again, what draws people from all over the world to the grand canyon and the impact that that would have not just on the park but also on local communities in our state. >> thank you very much, senator mcsally. thank you for the question. so what we find is the pipeline continuously breaks because of rock falls and when it breaks it creates a tremendous burden on the visitor and also on the park. so when people are coming to the grand canyon, you know, people see it as the crown jewel of parks and they want to have this experience and then they go and they need to use portable restroom facilities, they are eating from a paper plate because the restaurants cannot use the water to wash dishes, the park service is constantly scrambling to figure out how can they haul water to the park when the pipeline breaks. so now they just anticipate it. right now they're going to level
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2 water restrictions, they're making arrangements for water to be hauled, to be stored in tanks because they anticipate the pipeline is going to break. so when you have this and people begin to hear about it, visitors, not only is the experience diminished but then people question do we really want to go to the grand canyon national park. this is a tremendous burden for the economy because we depend on tourists for our economy and as a gateway community, flap staff, williams, all of the surrounding communities that struggle this then creates a burden for the counties and for our economy. i had mentioned just about the north rim and if that was open for four weeks longer it would mean a $14 million impact to our economy, additional money coming in. so when you look at our communities, the grand canyon national park is the lifeblood for our community and we need to make sure that that water
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pipeline is taken care of. it was supposed to last 40 years and it was built in the 1960s and here it is 2019. so it's one of those situations where it needed to happen yesterday. >> exactly. and you mentioned in your testimony the importance of the partnership between local communities and the federal government. i've climbed or hiked mt. elden many times. can you share a little bit more about how important it is to have local stakeholders like the counties and cities involved and working with the federal government related to these maintenance issues? because we are all in this together. >> absolutely. so in regards to the roads, i spoke about lake mary road, we are looking to do that with stoneman lake and perkinsville road which will provide access to the coconino national forest. we are hoping to replicate some kind of connector. we maintain school routes on forest service property, we have an agreement with the forest service to maintain some of the forest roads, and also in
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talking about the forest service, i mean, one of the main infrastructure in our federal forests is our trees. so when we are looking to -- we are looking to make sure we have forest restoration and forest health and counties, as you know, coconino county is assisting with that that with the forest restoration and you recently introduced legislation, but we need help from all of the federal government to get this project under way. we think about our resources in terms of the trees as something that is infrastructure and we need to make sure that we have forest health. >> thank you. i'm running close on time, ms. lago, a different topic on fossil creek, the importance of the $6 million needed to repair forest road 708 to get access to fossil creek. there was a meeting scheduled for 60 days that was supposed to happen last week on this topic and it was canceled abruptly.
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so a lot of folks are pretty unhappy about that. so can we get your commitment that we're going to get that meeting rescheduled immediately? >> yes, senator, i'm so sorry for that and i will make sure that it gets rescheduled immediately. >> thank you. i yield back. >> thank you, senator. ms. archuleta, i think you were the one that said that deferred maintenance is basically scheduled maintenance that we haven't gotten to yet, it hasn't gotten done yet, and i want to -- i want to have a discussion about investments in cyclic maintenance. this is actively what we're trying to do to avoid the deferred maintenance and it's like a doctor telling you, look, you need to -- you need to eat right and you need to get exercise, of course, this is what we need to do, and then when we don't do it then we play catch up on the health end. but i would ask you, and i will start with you, mr. cameron, you know, how do we find this
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balance between the deferred maintenance, which is substantial, and what we have to do to maintain just good health here within our public lands, this cyclic maintenance, and as you -- as you discuss that, walk me through how these decisions are made in terms of whether or not a matter, an issue, a project is part of the cyclic or the deferred. and i will give you my example here. i mentioned poly chrome pass out in denali. we know that the fix here is going to be extraordinarily costly, it's not going to be easy. in the interim we've been patching the road together using cyclic funds. so you've got certain areas of the denali park road that are included in the deferred
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maintenance budget, but poly chrome pass area is not. so who makes those decisions? how do we make this determination what is deferred and what is in that ongoing scheduled cyclical maintenance? >> senator, it varies a little bit from bureau to bureau, but at a high level all of our land management bureaus have a process for prioritizing their maintenance budgets. one could say -- >> who has the authority for that? is it the -- is it the land manag manager's job? who has that oversight? >> each park superintendent or refuge manager has got the best information about what's happening on their particular properties. >> right. >> and our bureaus have a tool
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called maximo that mathematically creates a facility condition index that gives you information about how much it would cost to replace a particular asset versus the cost of investing in maintenance. so we have -- each bureau has got at the national level a prioritization process, this information at the field level is fed up -- fed up to the national process and we at least in the park service we try to budget major investments at the national level. one exception of that -- >> so, for instance, would poly chrome pass, then, be viewed as a major investment because of the cost? >> i would have to look into that. i don't want to mislead you, chairman. i just don't know off the top of
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my head where poly chrome pass. >> i'm just wondering. it sounds like with this matrix if it is really expensive we don't want to use scheduled or cyclical funds for that, we're going to put it in the deferred maintenance category and then it just gets worse and it gets more expensive. how do we ever achieve this balance? obviously we are not in balance yet and how do we get there? i mean, there has been some good ideas most certainly with our public-private partnerships, more that can be done outside of appropriated funds, but it seems to me that this prioritization issue is something that we have not been able to wrap our hands around. >> chairman murkowski, we try to emphasize public health and safety related investments first, with he also worry about of the public -- that the safety and health of our own employees who may be working on a facility in terms of employee housing,
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for instance. in some sense our cyclical maintenance problems are deferred maintenance problems in waiting and i don't think we really have a bright line between this is a deferred maintenance problem over here and this is a cyclical maintenance problem in another area. we try to look at the visitor experience, health and safety and access issues and invest our -- in president's '20 budget $1.1 billion in maintenance across the board of all of our bureaus where we're going to get the biggest risk reduction, if you will, for the dollars of that -- that are available. >> so let me ask on that because, you know, senator king has noted the impact on acadia national park, you're loving it to death in terms of those that -- the public visitors. in alaska we are very proud of our 3 million visitors that come to the state every year, it's
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extraordinary given the fact that we have a population of 720,000 people, but we have certain parks that receive very, very little visitorship, i would be very curious to know on the per acre how that all factors out. but it doesn't mean that you don't have, for instance, life safety issues that need to be addressed. so i'd like to understand a little bit more about how this index actually works because i get those questions from my constituents about where are we on the list? and the list is something that i feel oftentimes is a deep dark secret. >> we would be happy to provide something for the record for you, chairman murkowski, on how our bureaus come up with their prioritization schemes and what those lists look like. >> i appreciate that. i'm going to turn -- >> just real quick. >> go ahead, senator. >> very quick, i have just a question i wanted to ask. mr. cameron, when you put your
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budget request into the executive branch, to the president, you put that request in and then basically it is evaluated and i guess you make adjustments from there. the only reason i'm saying that is the president's budget proposal cuts to the park service construction and operation account that funds maintenance along with the reduction of 120 full time workers in those accounts. this is on top of the nearly 1,100 full time staff reductions since 2009. i don't know how you would -- how you would make that request and be able to take care of deferred maintenance if you're cutting your own -- what you are requesting, unless the white house paid no attention to you and just went ahead and made those cuts unannounced. >> actually in the president's 2020 budget we are pleased that the white house gave the department $900 million more dollars than was at least in the president's '19 budget. we realize that the congress
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appropriates money as it feels appropriate. >> why are the recommendations coming really from the maintenance account? >> we were -- relatively speaking we tried to protect maintenance, but we do have a responsibility to provide for day to day visitor services in the parks and the wildlife refuges as well. so it's a difficult balance, mr. manchin. there is no doubt about it. i think clearly the -- >> but i'm saying we're talking about deferred maintenance and the majority of the proposed staffing cuts for the national park service came from maintenance. so i don't know how -- no matter how much money we give you you're not going to have personnel to take care of it. >> if the congress is able to enact something like the public lands infrastructure fund or s-500 i guarantee you that we will find the human resources to
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spend that money and spend it well and spend it as quickly as we can to address problems at acadia and in west virginia and alaska and elsewhere around the country. >> thank you. i'm now going to turn to senator alexander. we're trading places here this morning. while you and senator cassidy and senator king continue, i'm going to go over to the help committee. >> good. >> and provide some questions there. but if i do not make it back, i'm hopeful that i do, senator cassidy will go ahead and close the committee out. but i want to thank you each for your -- not only your appearance here before the committee, but your very constructive suggestions, your observations as to how we can do more. ms. lago, i'm hopeful that i will be able to come back and bring up the issue of forest service cabins and how we can do
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more from the volunteer perspective. i hear a lot about it from folks in alaska. so i'd like to continue that conversation. with that i'm going to excuse myself for a few minutes and turn to senator alexander and senator cassidy will have the gavel. thank you. >> thank you, madam chairman. mr. cameron and to all the witnesses, welcome. my questions are for mr. cameron. mr. cameron, the great smoky mountain national park, which is our most visited national park, has a backlog of $235 million for maintenance, it has an annual appropriation of $20 million and no entrance fee because of the way the park was created. do you see any way that we can deal with that $235 million deferred maintenance backlog without something like the proposal that the president has made in his budget and that is included in the restore our parks act to use funding from
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energy development on federal lands to provide mandatory funding to cut the maintenance backlog in half? >> senator alexander, also no way in the world we could deal with those sorts of problems that you've just described, whether it's at great smoky or at parks like acadia or elsewhere around the country and we very definitely need the legislation that you referred to and are grateful for this committee's interest in the topic and hope you get to mark up soon. >> i hope so, too. we're talking about very basic things clear that the american people care about. the campground on the edge of the smokees is a very popular campground. now, the department is taking steps to reopen it, but it's been closed five years because -- because of leaky roofs, bathrooms don't work, unsanitary conditions and hundreds of -- hundreds of families are deprived of that. i want to -- we have 38
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bipartisan co-sponsors of this legislation. that would suggest to me that there's no reason that it shouldn't pass the united states senate if we have a chance to mark it up and vote on it. it has the administration's strong support, according to secretary bernhardt, the restore our parks act, in fact, it was recommended in the first place by the administration and then the outdoors groups and the administration got together and we merged senator king, senator warner, senator portman, we merged all of our efforts into one, so we have an unusual happening here where the administration and competing senators all are behind the same goal on this agreement. you are the budget man. i want to emphasize this is the first time, isn't it, that an administration has supported using funding from energy development on federal land to
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provide mandatory funding for the maintenance backlog? >> yes, sir, to the best of my knowledge that's absolutely correct. >> yeah. and wouldn't it be wise if we have an administration who is willing to do that and 38 united states senators who are for it to take advantage of the moment because the next administration or even the next office of management and budget might have a different attitude? >> that's always a risk, senator. i agree with you completely, that the sooner we can pass legislation with strong bipartisan support on both sides of capitol hill and get it in front of the president the better. >> and the department of interior has already established a system of priorities for the spending of these dollars, am i not right? >> yes, senator, that is correct. each of our bureaus has a well-articulated process and i will be describing that for the record. >> okay. well, i wanted to -- i
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appreciate -- i had to come from chairing another hearing to be here, but i wanted to come to emphasize the importance of this piece of legislation not just to the great smokees or to acadia national park, but to our count country. it was ken burns who said this is america's best idea. we don't want millions of americans to show up at our national parks and not be able to use the bathroom, sleep in the campgrounds, walk on the trails, enjoy the great outdoors that we have. all of our -- every one so far as i can tell of our environmental and outdoors organizations are busily supporting this effort. the administration is supporting it. it has bipartisan leadership in the senate and i thank the chairman for her focus on it and i hope that we can mark it up, put it on the floor, pass it, turn it into law and get the parks -- get the deferred maintenance at least cut in half as the bill would do.
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i thank the chairman and that concludes my questions. >> senator cantwell. >> thank you, mr. chairman. thank you for the witnesses and for the hearing today. the outdoor recreation economy is booming in my state, $26 billion in spending supporting over 200,000 direct jobs and provides the state with about $2.3 billion in annual revenue. so, yes, i'm for anything that's going to continue to enhance the opportunities for people to enjoy the great northwest. one thing i don't think has been asked yet this morning, though, is the impact of climate on our backlog. we already have a backlog, but in my state because we're seeing different conditions, what are they doing to impact us? certainly it might be a little more hidden because you are talking about at our higher elevations, but clearly this creates more challenges to our area with everything from the
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impact of less snow pack to slides to a whole number of things. so has anybody calculated that information of impact? >> i will give that a try. >> thank you. >> i don't believe that we have, but what i would offer is, you know, what first came to mind is increasing severe weather, floods, hurricanes, wind events, they cause tremendous damage to roads, bridges, dams, that all increases our backlog of deferred maintenance and makes our infrastructure less safe. but as far as a calculation, no, senator, not that i know of. >> well, i think that this -- i think it's something we should consider. my colleague susan collins and i asked two years ago now they came out with a report last year, so the gao basically said that climate impacts were costing the federal government about $620 billion, this
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ten-year window. the next ten-year window over a trillion. so we know that basically from things like drought and fire and what have you, but i do think that we should in looking at our park and recreation needs think about -- we've worked hard in this committee on both fire and water, to try to change our management strategies. i think what we're asking here is what's the management strategy as it relates to the backlog given this impact. i see other witnesses nodding, i don't know if anybody wants to add anything. >> i would just say in years of severe wildfire and drought and flooding trails are closed because of the safety concerns and oftentimes not opened because then they can go on the backlog. so a couple examples of how this impacts local economies is with guides and outfitters who rely on that trail or that particular unit for their livelihood potentially that year. they have the permit for that one area and severe weather due to climate and closures due to the maintenance backlog could
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impair their ability to do business and then just a recent example, my aunt who found out i was testifying today goes to the mountains with millions of people from l.a. each year. lots of flooding, her trail access to a campground she uses and many others use has been closed because of severe flooding in california, hasn't been opened because of the backlog. you can see how those things go hand in hand and impact access, enjoyment and then local economies. >> anybody else on that point? >> thank you, senator. i'd like to answer that in coconino county we have the schultz fire and floo gd that destroyed 115,000 acres and subsequent flooding cost the county in excess of $30 million, closed down forests, impacted our recreation economy. when you looks at all of the damage that was caused in the loss of the economy it amounted to $120 million. so i see the forest restoration, health forest as a priority for our county and for other counties in the nation.
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>> senator, i would like to piggyback on that last point. i believe the administration has introduced legislation on forest health that would attempt to address some of these issues and as has been indicated there are multiple reasons that we have deferred maintenance problems, some of them tied to whether -- others just tied to natural aging of materials over time, but we're really pleased that this committee has taken on the opportunity through the legislation, that senator alexander and others have introduced to do something about this issue. so thank you. >> definitely support senator alexander's efforts and other people's efforts to take care of the backlog and maintenance for the very point that ms. wahl just mentioned. i'm not for a broad categorical exemption that doesn't allow for public input or environmental law. we don't want the same things to
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happen that she just mentioned. we have you have devastation of our forests it causes problems to our streams and runoff to fish. we need good stewardship here is what we need. so i hope that we will just take into consideration how big the backlog is and the fact of the challenge that climate is making it harder. we need to get this done this year. thank you. thank you, mr. chair. >> the chair calls upon himself. part of this is to discuss solutions. the solution is to take offshore revenue from the western and central gifl and spread it around the rest of the country. i feel a little like the turkey on thanksgiving day. i say that because it cannibalizizes the ability of gulf coast states to repair their coast lines. we've seen consequences of the coastlines being in disrepair.
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hurricanes katrina and rita were great examples. to the degree we lose louisiana marsh land, we lost something more than the state of iowa to the state of delaware is the degree to which my cities become more vulnerable. put simply, one mile of marsh land takes a cat five hurricane to a four. second mile to a cat three, third mile to a cat two. to the degree that we have a google map which shows green, and yet i know when i'm out there on the boat that land is no longer there, but rather has subsided is a marker of the risk to my state. i expressed objections to senators portland and alexander that this resource which for five years doesn't take a rocket scientist would be up for another five and another five,
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ultimately impacts the ability of the central gulf to ask for additional resources to repair the coastline. with that preamble, and wanting to help, i want to help deferred maintenance, i totally accept that, i want to enter several letters to the record. i ask myself and i approve. asking for parody in terms of how we disperse energy revenues. this is to point out on land, revenue sharing is far more generous to states than it is for offshore revenue sharing. the second is a bipartisan letter to the president from governors of alabama, louisiana, texas, mississippi which call for the same. final two letters from the louisiana legislature, and 15 parish presidents which concerns echo those i just expressed. i want to point out that senator hyde smith and i are working
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with kufl coast colleagues on a proposal to ensure gulf interests are satisfied in this endeavor. i say this because everybody will say oh, my gosh, cassidy is being parochial, concerned about new orleans being whacked by a hurricane. he should be concerned about the campground in the smoky mountains. i am concerned about the campground in the smoky mountains. committee notes that just 112 parks charge entrance fees, 80% of fees stay in the park where the fee is assessed. active duty, disabled veterans do not pay entrance fees, former secretary zinke said car loads of visitors can enter the park at no cost if they go in with active duty military or disabled veteran. theoretically a school bus, driver is active duty, 40 kids enter without paying a fee. if we really care about the
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parks, if we really want to have these fixed, would it be reasonable that the active duty would enter, but those in the bus otherwise pay a fee? >> senator, i think you raise some interesting points. the administration has entertained making changes to our rec fee, how we charge, where we charge, and frankly we have gotten less than wild enthusiasm. >> so my colleagues that are eager to spend revenue from off the shore of the gulf coast because by golly it is such a priority to fix these parks are less eager to actually have a user fee that's pretty modest that would apply to those using the parks? >> we're pleased to have authority that the congress has given us until now to charge user fees.
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i would hazard a guess, we would welcome a broader authority. >> do you currently have ability, if you have a bus load of people that are not disabled or active duty, but the driver is, do you currently have authority to charge fees to everybody else except for that driver that would qualify? >> i don't have the answer to that specific scenario. >> does anyone else know the answer? that's kind of a key question. if we really care about this issue, we should consider user fees to apply to those they order necessarily apply, and do you know the answer to that? >> in general there are both the traditional recreation fees that i think you're speaking to where the norm for say having an america the beautiful pass would not, should not go to a full bus load of people coming in, but yes, you're absolutely right, would be used by say a regular car with four people in it.
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separate from that, though, i would note there are commercial fees that can when you talk about a bus load of people coming in for a special event, others, guides, outfitters and others will work separately, on a different schedule with land management agencies to pay fees. >> there's a raft of people not paying appropriate fees because they're entering in under the umbrella of somebody who congress has given a pass to. >> i think the public lands alliance would certainly agree with you that recreation fees have not been maximized in the current state. >> i am out of time. although i am the chair and could indulge myself, i won't. i will point out, do i have a script by the way? i will point out that i'm a little bit, what's the word, less convinced about crocodile
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tears for our parks when people will not assess appropriate user fees on those using those parks to defray this expense. and it is money left on the table which i suspect those users would more than willingly pay. but it reminds me of an old russell long quote, don't tax me, don't tax thee, tax the person behind the tree. and in this case it is the gulf coast states, but the consequences, there's less money to rebuild my coastline which means i will continue to have the highest rate of erosion and land loss in the continental, no, the entire united states, one of the highest in the world. senator king, would you like a second round? >> i would like to discuss what you raise because the bill doesn't take funds away from coastal restoration, it specifically, the language is
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revenues from renewable development on federal land and water otherwise credited, covered, deposited as miscellaneous receipts under federal law, then goes on to talk about effects on other revenues, nothing in the section effects disposition revenues due to trust funds, states for mineral and energy development on federal land and water have been otherwise appropriate atd under federal law, including gulf of mexico security act. we tried to avoid doing what you suggest. these are excess funds, not funds, we're not taking money away from any of the allocations to the states. these are funds that would otherwise simply go into treasury as unallocated funds. we should pursue the discussion because this isn't an either or proposition. additionally, i agree, fees have to be part of the equation, and there are places there are no fees charged and people that use parks just as they do at many
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parks should pay a fee. i think the park service should be a little more active in thinking about that. prior to you joining us, we talked about other ways to augment funds. i should say this bill only covers half the backlog. we're going to be looking to other resources, whether it is matching funds or additional resources. we're trying to work it out in such a way that it does not diminish. i have been a strong supporter of your efforts to protect the louisiana coast. it is tragic and i have seen the charts you've shown us of loss of land, and so hopefully we can continue to work on this in a way that will satisfy the interests of louisiana and the coast states and also people of the united states that are so interested in working on this bag log. >> i appreciate the concern. i will point out, if you're on
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feder federal lanlds, you get 50% of royalties from the well. if you're on a coastal state, currently the gulf coast, with your case may soon be wind, royalty is capped at 37.5% with overall cap, looking at staff to make sure i have this right, 500 million. whereas 51% here, 37.5% here with upper cap. my concern is i like to have increased revenue for your state if there's wind generated off your state or for my state for consequences of that offshore exploration. right now, i fear this will cannibalizize the ability to achieve that. now we have more and more money going out to the maintenance. >> i think that's a discussion we need to have. i wanted you to know, we weren't trying to take money from the offshore revenues that are so important to louisiana. >> thank you.
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i should also note that questions for the record will be received for two weeks after the end of this hearing. i want to thank the witnesses for coming and for adding to public discourse, and the hearing is now adjourned. and live to capitol hill. a look inside the raburn house office building this wednesday morning. house oversight and reform committee having a hearing on office of special counsel
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recommendation that president trump fire white house counselor kellyanne conway for violating the hatch act. the hatch act limits political activity by most federal employees. this hearing should start in a moment. live coverage here on cspan3.
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