OLD FAITHFUL, Wyo. (Reuters) - Against the backdrop of Yellowstone’s Old Faithful Geyser, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday urged Congress to dedicate billions of dollars in federal energy revenues for repairs to aging facilities at America’s national parks.
The Trump administration proposal, which failed to pass last year despite broad bipartisan support on Capitol Hill, offers warring Republicans and Democrats a rare vehicle for legislative common ground.
Upkeep of the park system, whose facilities and infrastructure have fallen into disrepair as visitation at many parks has risen steadily in recent years, is widely seen as popular with voters in both major parties.
Pence paid a visit to Yellowstone, one of the oldest and most popular of America’s national parks, to rally attention to the funding plan and the cause of preserving “extraordinary treasures in the life of our nation.”
U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Cam Sholly joined Pence for his appearance, carefully timed to coincide with one of the periodic eruptions of the Old Faithful Geyser, a major attraction in a park world renowned for its geothermal features and wildlife.
The proposal calls for earmarking a portion of all revenues generated by energy leasing from federal lands and offshore wells to help pay for $16 billion in deferred maintenance projects at Interior Department properties nationwide.
The bulk of that backlog, nearly $12 billion, is needed by the National Park Service to repair campgrounds, roads, bridges, visitor centers, trails and other facilities. The special fund is projected to furnish $6.8 billion over the next decade.
More than 300 million people visit the nation’s 419 national park sites annually. But while admissions have climbed over the past decade - up roughly 50 percent at Yellowstone alone - funding and staffing has remained relatively flat.
President Donald Trump proposed cutting Park Service spending next year by 15 percent.
Paul and Nadine Atkinson, a retired couple from Columbia Falls, Montana, were among the geyser gazers who had to view the eruption from a less ideal section of boardwalk to accommodate security for Pence.
“This is one of the true treasures of our country, and keeping it in good shape is a great idea,” said Paul Atkinson.
(This story was refiled to replace decades with decade in paragraph 8)
Reporting by Ruffin Prevost in Yellowstone National Park; Editing by Steve Gorman and Cynthia Osterman