Last month, the Interior Department made an announcement that could have implications for those of us who love parks: In 2020, federal energy disbursements fell by about $3.5 billion, a plunge of 31 percent compared to the previous year. Why should park enthusiasts care about energy revenues? Simply put, if energy revenues slide much further, the new program meant to restore dilapidated park infrastructure will go underfunded, making it even more difficult to address the already colossal backlog of deferred maintenance.
Federal energy revenues come from the production of oil, gas, and other natural resources on U.S. government property, including offshore waters. A portion of those revenues has long supported conservation and recreation, mostly through the popular Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which is the main funding source for federal land acquisition.
When the Great American Outdoors Act was signed into law last summer, it established the National Parks and Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund to channel up to $9.5 billion in energy revenues to deferred maintenance projects over the next five years. It should help meet a desperate need given that the total backlog across all public lands is roughly $20 billion, about $12 billion of which is in the National Park System.