Congress last week passed a $1.15 trillion budget for the upcoming year that includes some holiday cheer for the National Park Service. And what is also a gift is that there is a budget instead of a government shutdown (which would cause national parks to close as a result).
The House and Senate both passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act on Friday, Dec. 18, and President Barack Obama signed it into law the same day. The massive omnibus budget includes an increase in discretionary funding and funds the government through September 30, 2016.
In total, the bill provides $32.159 billion in discretionary funds for programs within the jurisdiction of the Department of the Interior, and that is $1.74 billion more than the fiscal year 2015 level, or a six percent increase, and just $48.9 million less than the President’s request for discretionary spending.
Thanks to funding increases provided through the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, the amount in this bill is nearly $2 billion more than the funding levels provided in either of the House or Senate Committee marks. The Interior bill invests in a wide range of critical programs that are vital to the continued conservation of America’s public lands and cultural resources, protection of the environment and public health, and the appropriate development of domestic natural resources.
The bill includes funds to operate the National Park Service, which is preparing for its 2016 Centennial.
“It’s the best bill for national parks that we have seen in years,” said John Garder, National Parks Conservation Association’s director of budgets and appropriations. “The funding to operate national parks is the highest level we’ve seen in many years.”
While the measure does not meet the President’s full budget request for the National Park Service, it contains a 4.1 percent increase in operational funds, provides big bumps in Land and Water Conservation Fund dollars, construction funds that can be used to tackle needed maintenance projects, historic preservation funds, and partnership dollars that are designed to boost private contributions as the National Park Service approaches its centennial in August 2016.
2016 Consolidated Appropriations Act: NPS details
—A 4%, $94 million increase for park operations that will provide needed staff to serve visitors, maintain parks and protect wildlife;
—A $5 million increase in the Centennial Challenge program to $15 million. This will be matched by at least $15 million in private dollars for projects throughout the country;
—A 40%, $55 million increase to address the maintenance backlog at national parks;
—$33 million for federal Land and Water Conservation Fund projects that will fund more than 20 projects throughout the country, and a three-year extension of the program’s funding income from offshore drilling receipts;
—Provides endangered Heritage Areas, which help communities protect nationally significant historic resources, with near-term budget relief and funding extensions;
—A $9 million increase in the Historic Preservation Fund;
—$300 million for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, a $50 million increase over the president’s budget and equal to FY15 levels;
—Extension of authority for the Chesapeake Bay Initiative through 2017; and
—Everglades restoration funding equal to the President’s budget request, including $123.7 million for construction for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – an 80% increase over FY15 funding.
—Synopsis from National Parks Conservation Association