Kilmer Questions Zinke on Drilling, Park Fees, Elwha Water Facility

Today, Representative Derek Kilmer asked Secretary Ryan Zinke about the Trump Administration’s plan to open nearly all of America’s coastal waters to offshore drilling, and the plan to raise visitor fees at some of the nation’s most popular national parks, including Olympic National Park. Kilmer also raised a local issue concerning the Elwha Water Facility.

Video of the hearing is available here.

Kilmer opposes offshore drilling. In his questioning, he noted that drilling off the state’s coast would place Washington’s $50 billion maritime economy and the 191,000 jobs it supports at risk.

Today, Kilmer asked Secretary Zinke if he was prepared to announce the Trump Administration would withdraw the state from consideration within the offshore drilling plan, as the Administration was willing to do with the state of Florida.

Kilmer said: “I had a bunch of town halls last week in my district, and the issue of off shore drilling came up a bunch. I know you are…keenly aware of Washington state’s opposition to the plan. I know you told Senator Cantwell that you were going to ‘mark Washington state down as opposed to drilling.’ So I was wondering if you’d be able to announce today that you’d withdraw our state from consideration as you’ve done with Florida. If not, given the near-universal opposition to drilling off Washington’s coast, what’s preventing the department from making that determination and has anyone expressed an interest in drilling off our coast?”

Zinke responded: “Putting everything on, and if I would have left Florida off in the beginning it would have been arbitrary and capricious, and this is the plan and not a rule. So everyone is in the process. Washington: there is little or no resources of oil and natural gas off the coast of Oregon and Washington. There is no infrastructure to support an oil and gas industry off the coast of Oregon or Washington. And, there is—I would say—passionate opposition to do so. In the case of Washington, with the coal terminals, Washington itself has enormous leverage as a state. I have talked to your governor, because Washington has the first, I think, three or four miles is state waters, Washington can restrict the federals’ activity. If you were to drill off the coast of Washington, and if there were resources, which is a geologist’s, I haven’t seen any interest or resources there, you would somehow have to bring it to shore. Well, you’d have to go through the state waters. Similarly with Massachusetts—did not or strenuously objected to a windfarm that was pretty close to the coastline, what they did is they revoked the ability for that windfarm’s energy to get to shore through state waters. So we will continue with the process, our team went out there, I’ve talked to your governor, I think I’ve talked to almost every Congressional member including your two Senators, so I think I have a pretty good idea where Washington stands.”

The Secretary also said he would work with Kilmer to address an estimated $11 billion maintenance backlog in the National Park System. The Trump Administration proposed raising park visitor fees to pay for the maintenance backlog at 17 of the most popular National Parks, including Olympic National Park. The Seattle Times estimates the higher fees, which in some cases would triple the cost for a family to visit a national park, would cover just 1 percent of the necessary maintenance.

Kilmer worked with Reps. Dave Reichert (R-WA), Will Hurd (R-TX), and Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI) to create a long-term plan that addresses the backlog without raising visitor fees. Their bill, the National Park Service Legacy Act, would create a permanent fund for park maintenance that would adequately address the issue without sticking visitors with higher fees.

Kilmer: “I know we want to see something cross the finish line that actually addresses this maintenance backlog. I just want to ask for your continued attention to this and partnership in this as we work to hopefully establish a dedicated fund to hopefully address the maintenance backlog.”

According to the National Park Service, more than 3 million visitors come to Olympic National Park each year. In 2016, those visitors spent $286,786,300 in communities near the park, and supported 3842 local jobs. Kilmer is worried that higher visitor fees will reduce the number of visitors to the park and hurt the local economy. He encouraged his constituents to speak out against the fee, and visited local businesses supported by park visitors to highlight his concerns about a fee hike.

Last week, according to The Seattle Times, the Interior Department announced it was reevaluating the fee hike plan in an acknowledgement of the public’s strong opposition to it.

Today, Secretary Zinke said, “What I’m hoping is that there are multiple bills that approach it somewhat differently, but we need to address the backlog of maintenance…we are very supportive of any mechanism that would address a backlog, and it is not getting any better.”

He also spoke about some of the other proposals to address the park maintenance issue and some of the challenges related to maintaining the historic buildings within the National Parks System.

Kilmer also asked Zinke for his assurances that the Park Service would continue to work with the City of Port Angeles on the Elwha Water Facility.

The Secretary responded: “It is my understanding they are in negotiation, and while the two sides remain apart, you have my assurance I am going to get personally involved with it because I just want it settled.”

Zinke also called for reinvesting in the state’s salmon population and stressed the importance of fisheries to the state’s economy and tribal communities.