Outdoors for All Act
STATEMENT OF LENA MCDOWALL, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, MANAGEMENT AND ADMINISTRATION, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE HOUSE NATURAL RESOURCES SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, FORESTS, AND PUBLIC LANDS, REGARDING H.R. 4512, A BILL TO PROVIDE GRANTS FOR PROJECTS TO ACQUIRE LAND AND WATER FOR PARKS AND OTHER OUTDOOR RECREATION PURPOSES AND TO DEVELOP NEW OR RENOVATE EXISTING OUTDOOR RECREATION FACILITIES.
FEBRUARY 27, 2020
Chair Haaland, Ranking Member Young, and members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to present the Department of the Interior’s views on H.R. 4512, a bill to provide grants for projects to acquire land and water for parks and other outdoor recreation purposes and to develop new or renovate existing outdoor recreation facilities.
The Department does not support enactment of H.R. 4512, as it is not consistent with the Administration’s proposal for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) State and Local Assistance program in the President’s proposed budget for fiscal year (FY) 2021. In addition, enactment of this bill would eliminate the flexibility to change the existing Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership (ORLP) program as funding needs for outdoor recreation change.
The LWCF State and Local Assistance Program, established by Congress in 1964, authorizes grants to States, and through States to local units of government and Federally-recognized Indian tribes, for projects that will provide outdoor recreation opportunities to the public through the acquisition of lands and waters for parks and other outdoor recreation areas, as well as through the new development or renovation of outdoor recreation facilities. The LWCF State and Local Assistance program is operated by the National Park Service (NPS) in partnership with designated lead state agencies in each of the 50 states as well as American Samoa, the District of Columbia, Guam, Northern Marianas Islands, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. Each year, a portion of the revenues authorized by the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act of 2006 (GOMESA) (P.L. 109-432), along with any funding from the LWCF that Congress appropriates for the state grant program, is allocated to the states and territories based on a statutory formula. Projects are selected by the states in accordance with an NPS-approved statewide outdoor recreation plan.
The ORLP program was developed in response to language in the explanatory report accompanying P.L. 113-76, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2014. That language directed the NPS to establish a nationwide competitive grant program as a complementary addition to the formula-based LWCF State and Local Assistance Program. The NPS developed the program in consultation with members of Congress, its state partners, and nongovernmental interest groups. A primary objective of this program was to provide grants to large densely-populated urban areas that typically have significant needs but were often deterred from competing for the LWCF formula-based grants due to the grant ceilings in many states that were typically lower than they have been recently.
Similar to the formula-based LWCF State and Local Assistance program, the ORLP program provides matching grants for acquisition and development of land for outdoor recreation purposes. However, the ORLP program specifically targets projects that will create or substantially renovate parks in urbanized areas of 50,000 or more people that are underserved in terms of parks and other outdoor recreation resources. The program includes a focus on the needs of low-income communities and on projects that will have ancillary economic benefits such as the creation of new jobs.
Congress has appropriated funds for ORLP every year since 2014, with a total of $98 million through FY 2020. By comparison, a total of $834.7 million has been appropriated for the State and Local Grant program during the same period. As with formula grants, state partners play a key role in helping to solicit and identify appropriate projects and ultimately serve as the lead recipient for any grant. Projects that are approved must meet one or more priorities of a state’s outdoor recreation plan and are subject to LWCF Act provisions such as the protection from conversion to uses other than recreation.
HR. 4512 would enact in statute the ORLP program largely as it is currently structured but would make significant changes to the way projects are funded and prioritized.
Currently, the ORLP program is funded from discretionary LWCF appropriations. H.R. 4512 would redirect 20 percent of the GOMESA revenues that are currently mandated by law to be used for the LWCF State and Local Assistance formula grants for the ORLP program (up to $25 million per year). The President’s budget proposal for FY 2021 calls for allocating the entire $117 million in estimated FY 2020 GOMESA revenues for LWCF State and Local Assistance for the formula-based program. Enactment of H.R. 4512 would result in all states and territories receiving a reduced allocation of funding from GOMESA based on an estimated $93 million in revenue, rather than $117 million. That difference would mean significantly less funding for local recreation projects throughout the country.
Although as noted, the ORLP program was initially established with urban areas as a focus, the fact that the program’s purposes, priorities, and criteria for eligibility are not set in statute allows the flexibility to adjust the program as needs change. For example, given the LWCF State and Local Assistance program funding levels since FY 2016, we are finding that larger urban areas are more likely to apply for formula-based LWCF grants than they were in FY 2014 and prior years when funding was significantly less. As a result, we have had some discussion with our partners and other stakeholders about whether the current focus on densely populated urban areas continues to be the most relevant and effective use of ORLP funding. We think there would be a benefit to maintaining flexibility to allow the Department to work with Congress to make adjustments in the program that respond to changing conditions.
Additionally, H.R. 4512 would significantly increase the number of jurisdictions eligible for ORLP grants. This change would occur because the bill’s definition of a “Qualifying Urban Area” is “an area identified by the Census Bureau as an ‘Urban Area’ in the most recent census.” This definition would include both “Urbanized Areas” (50,000+ residents) as well as “Urban Clusters” (2,500 to 49,999 residents). Currently, there are 486 Urbanized Areas eligible for the ORLP program. Under H.R. 4512, the pool of eligible localities would expand to also include the approximately 3,800 Urban Clusters. Not only would this change diminish the focus of the program on larger urban areas, it would also result in an applicant pool that would be less distinguishable from the current formula-based grant applicant pool and would increase duplication with the formula-based program.
Chair Haaland, this concludes my statement. I would be pleased to answer any questions you or other members of the Subcommittee may have.