Washington, D.C. — According to an analysis released today by the Center for American Progress, the National Park Service’s, or NPS’, annual list of deferred maintenance projects could be a Trojan horse for the Trump administration to give away hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer money to hotel corporations, resort owners, and food service companies that operate in national parks.
The in-depth review of the NPS’ $11.9 billion deferred maintenance backlog list, which Congress uses to inform decisions about how to allocate taxpayer investments in the national parks, uncovered at least $389 million worth of projects at concessionaire-operated facilities in national parks. Under their contracts to operate in national parks, for-profit concessionaires—such as hotels, gift shops, and restaurants—are required to pay for the maintenance costs associated with the facilities they occupy.
“Too often, anti-conservation members of Congress argue that the National Park Service’s maintenance backlog is insurmountable, and they use this flimsy talking point to argue against protecting other at-risk lands and wildlife,” said Nicole Gentile, Deputy Director of the Public Lands Project at CAP and lead author of the issue brief. “Congress should focus its infrastructure and maintenance investments on helping the National Park Service protect the natural and cultural resources in our parks and force for-profit companies to pay their fair share for upkeep.”
The blending of high-priority infrastructure needs with maintenance costs that should be borne by private parties elevates the risk for privatization and corporate giveaways in the national parks under the Trump administration. In addition to spending taxpayer money in NPS’ maintenance budget to benefit resorts and hotel owners, the issue brief warns that the Trump administration could also allow companies to commandeer the national park brand and even trademark the names of individual parks.
To guard against the possibility of taxpayer money being spent inappropriately, the CAP issue brief calls for the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Office of Inspector General to investigate concessionaire-operated NPS facilities to ensure that the $1.14 billion park concession industry is paying its appropriate share of maintenance costs. Additionally, the brief argues that Congress should ensure that its investments in public lands also help address the critical needs of other agencies, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the U.S. Forest Service.
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