NPCA: States Should Be Repaid For Opening National Parks During October Shutdown

The National Parks Conservation Association is urging Congress to repay those states that made it possible for a handful of national parks to open for business during last October's shutdown.

While several legislative initiatives calling for reimbursements to be made have been introduced, they're slogging through Congress. If you believe the predictions made by govtrack.us, those measures have little chance of being passed. One, H.R. 3286, while being reported to the House floor back in December, has just a 14 percent chance of being approved by that chamber, according to the website. Companion legislation in the Senate hasn't budged, according to NPCA.

"Without congressional action, the federal government has no legal authority to provide reimbursements that are now being requested," an NPCA release notes.

“Although those states signed donation agreements to re-open national parks that clearly stated there was no guarantee they would be reimbursed, they judged that risk to be worth taking in light of the enormous economic importance of national parks to state and local economies. Utah alone saw a 10:1 return on its donation," said Theresa Pierno, NPCA's chief operating officer.

“The funding of national parks is, first and foremost, a federal responsibility. The partial shutdown of the federal government, which should never have happened, resulted in the expenditure of approximately $2 million of donated funds by the National Park Service that reopened parks before the shutdown ended," she went on. "In light of the federal responsibility to fund our national parks, NPCA believes it appropriate that the states in question be reimbursed for the expenses they incurred."

States that dipped into their own budgets to open parks included Utah (Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Bryce Canyon National Park, Zion National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, Natural Bridges National Monument, and Cedar Breaks National Monument), Arizona (Grand Canyon National Park), and Colorado (Rocky Mountain National Park).

Along with urging Congress to do what's right, NPCA asked that it do so without cutting the National Park Service's budget.

“We support congressional efforts to authorize reimbursement to the states involved. That said, it is also important to recognize that the National Park Service was required to incur unbudgeted expenses in closing and reopening national parks across the country," Ms. Pierno said. "Therefore, if reimbursements are made directly from the National Park Service’s operating account, they likely will require cutbacks from budgeted expenses for fiscal year 2014. We encourage Congress to seek sources of reimbursement that do not result in an effective cut to the National Park Service’s operating budget for the current fiscal year.”