Maryville Daily Times: Alexander presses Interior nominee on Restore Our Parks support

Posted on November 5, 2019

It wasn’t a pledge by President Trump’s nominee to be deputy secretary of the Department of the Interior to support legislation that addresses $12 billion in deferred maintenance at national parks.

It wasn’t an explicit non-commitment to the president’s proposed budget either.

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., used a hearing on Katharine MacGregor’s nomination before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on Tuesday to attempt to establish that the administration will continue to support the Restore Our Parks Act.

The act, which Alexander introduced in the Senate, provides a way to cut in half the nearly $12 billion deferred maintenance backlog in national parks.

It would do so by using revenues from energy production on federal lands to provide mandatory funding that addresses the funding shortfall.

Alexander noted the bill has bipartisan support in the Senate, with 43 co-sponsors, including 13 Republicans and 30 Democrats, then got directly to the point.

“It has had the strong support of the administration and of the president. So my question to you is, does the administration still support the Restore Our Parks Act?”

MacGregor replied, “Senator, we absolutely support addressing our nation’s backlog in national parks.”

After noting this is the first administration that would allow its Office of Management and Budget to support funding for deferred park maintenance like this legislation does, Alexander posed another direct question.

“You reflect that in the budget that the president submitted to Congress this year, is that correct?” he asked.

“That is 100% accurate,” MacGregor said.

Pressing further, Alexander asked the nominee if she could think of another way Congress could cut in half the $12 billion deferred maintenance backlog.

“I don’t believe in 20 seconds I could contemplate any new ideas on that front for $12 billion,” MacGregor said.

“Well, I can’t think of any,” Alexander said.

The Maryville native went on to say Great Smoky Mountains National Park cannot by federal agreement have an entrance fee.

“So there is no possible way that the backlog in the Smokies could ever be fixed without something like the Restore Our Parks Act,” Alexander said.

MacGregor currently serves as the deputy chief of staff exercising the authority of the deputy secretary at the Department of the Interior, a department statement said.

The Washington Examiner newspaper wrote about MacGregor that as Interior’s deputy chief of staff she has worked on boosting energy and mineral development on public lands. She previously was a staff member for Republicans on the House Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, and her LinkedIn page said that while on Capitol Hill she focused on domestic oil and gas development and offshore renewable energy.