Vice President Mike Pence visited Yellowstone National Park Thursday to discuss the Park Service’s backlog of maintenance projects. Pence says the Trump administration is committed to conservation and improving national parks infrastructure.
In front of Old Faithful, Vice President Mike Pence addressed a group of National Park Service and Forest Service staff.
“In this administration, in this White House, you have a president who is committed to conservation, and President Donald Trump is committed to improving and bettering the national parks of the United States of America. I promise you,” said Pence.
Pence and Interior Secretary David Bernhardt visited Yellowstone National Park to discuss the Park Service’s growing repair list. The Park Service used over $670 million last year to repair paved roads, trails, utilities and buildings that serve visitor needs. But the to-do list keeps getting longer and is estimated to cost nearly $12 billion to complete.
One of the factors is aging infrastructure. Seventy percent of the backlog is due to infrastructure that’s over 60 years old. Another factor is the wear and tear that comes with the increase in visitation to national parks. The Park Service received over 300 million visits in 2018 for its fourth consecutive year.
“We do have a backlog in maintenance, hundreds of millions of dollars, but our administration has proposed a new fund that would capture 50 percent of all the revenues coming off of leases on public lands and investing those back on national parks and national treasures,” Pence.
He was referring to the proposed Public Lands Infrastructure Fund, which would use up to $1.3 billion revenue each year from energy production and set it aside for the maintenance backlog.
“Is it true the Trump administration’s 2020 budget cut funding for the national parks?" asked a member of the press.
"We believe the combination of investments that we’re making is exactly the right level. But the historic investment that we will be making in maintenance by literally creating a funding stream for maintenance from our public leases we believe will more than meet the maintenance obligations of our national parks,” said Pence.
The administration’s proposed 2020 budget would cut the total Park Service budget by nearly $500 million.
Before leaving Yellowstone, Pence, his wife Karen and Bernhardt helped Park staff work on a new boardwalk around Old Faithful.
Yellowstone, America’s first national park and one of the most visited, has a list of deferred maintenance projects with a price tag of nearly $600 million as of September 2018.
"We are doing a lot of work to repair deferred maintenance. Today we’re looking on this boardwalk project, but there’s other trail work and buildings and roads. Probably the biggest deferred maintenance project in Yellowstone is roads," said spokesperson Jodi Lyle.
Pence’s trip to Yellowstone follows his third visit to Billings in two years. Pence Wednesday joined Montana’s Republican Congressman Greg Gianforte and Senator Steve Daines to discuss what’s been called a meth crisis in Montana. The vice president will return to Washington, D.C. Thursday evening.