A bipartisan coalition of five U.S. senators has introduced legislation that would enable the government to fully fund the Centennial Initiative proposed by the Bush administration in honor of the National Park Service's upcoming centennial in 2016.
In contrast to the president's proposal, however, this National Park Centennial Fund would provide at least $100 million annually to the Park Service from 2008 through 2016 -- up to a total of $1 billion -- without need for a private match. President Bush's proposal would have provided that full $100 million a year only if it were matched by private donations.
That said, the senators' legislation (attached below) does allow for private donations and also calls for a commemorative postage stamp to be sold to further raise funds for the parks.
The legislation introduced today was sponsored by U.S. Sens. Ken Salazar, D-CO, Susan Collins, R-ME, Max Baucus, D-MT, Jon Tester, D-MT, and Norm Coleman, R-MN.
"The centennial celebration will be an opportunity to resurrect the spirit that drove people like Enos Mills, one of the founders of Rocky Mountain National Park, to work tirelessly to protect our nation’s crown jewels for future generations," Sen. Salazar said in a floor speech. “'In years to come when I am asleep beneath the pines,' Mills proclaimed in 1909, 'thousands of families will find rest and hope in this park.'
"He was right," continued the senator. "Thanks to the excellent work of the Park Service and its employees over the past 90 years, the 3.2 million visitors that come to Rocky Mountain National Park each year experience the same wild lands and spectacular vistas that our ancestors enjoyed."
While Sen. Salazar congratulated Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne for proposing the Centennial Initiative during a visit to Yellowstone National Park in August 2006, and suggesting that the initiative be built around a partnership involving the federal government, private philanthropies, and other non-federal sources, the senator added that "the legislation offered by the administration to put the Centennial Challenge into action suffered from a number of deficiencies – namely, a lack of a spending offset and an unclear delineation of the public’s and Congress’ role in the program.
"There were also concerns about the bill’s effect on other Park Service accounts, friends groups, and existing philanthropic initiatives."
To resolve those murky details, the senators' legislation:
* Would provide $100 million annually from the federal treasury, offset by royalty revenues from off-shore oil and gas leasing in the Gulf of Mexico. According to Sen. Salazar, "In 2008, off-shore oil and gas lease sales have already generated more than $4 billion in revenue above Department of Interior projections.";
* Allows supporters of the parks "to match their contributions with federal dollars to carry out a program or a project at a national park unit, provided that the project or program is approved by the Park Service and Congress;"
* Encourages, but does not require, non-federal philanthropic participation for a project to be executed with federal money from the Centennial Fund. The legislation does dictate that centennial projects that have "committed non-federal support" be given "a higher priority" in receiving federal funding.
Additionally, the legislation would allow funds to be spent on land acquisition.
"To ensure that Congress has the opportunity to review and approve the proposed project list, the bill requires the Secretary of Interior to submit to Congress, as part of the president’s annual budget submission, a list of proposed Centennial projects," Sen. Salazar told his colleagues. "The yearly project lists are to be developed by the secretary with input from the public and national Park Service employees.
"...All projects must be consistent with Park Service policies and adopted park planning documents and be representative of the breadth of the national park system," he continued. "The bill also requires that project proposals fall into one of seven categories or ‘initiatives’ defined in the bill: Education, Diversity, Supporting Park Professionals, Environmental Leadership, Natural Resource Protection, Cultural Resource Protection, and Visitor Enjoyment and Health, and Construction. No more than 30% of the amounts available in the fund in any fiscal year may be spent on construction activities."
Additionally, the legislation directs that centennial funds not supplant regular Park Service appropriations and requires that "adequate permanent staffing levels must be maintained," said Sen. Salazar.