Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman , D-N.M., questioned Salazar about the economic recovery plan that House Democratic leaders outlined earlier. The summary included funding to fight forest fires and clear wildfire hazards but no money designated for national parks.
Bingaman urged Salazar to make sure the final plan includes funding to address billions of dollars in deferred maintenance projects for national parks, forests and water infrastructure.
In particular, Bingaman said he wants to address a $9.5 billion backlog in maintenance projects at the Park Service, a $5 billion backlog at the Forest Service and $3 billion for aging water infrastructure. He also said the recovery plan could help fund Bureau of Indian Affairs schools.
Salazar said he would help the new administration “understand the importance” of those issues. “We know that there are over $2.5 billion of projects ready to go in our national park systems, so we hope to be able to address those in our recovery package,” he said.
Salazar also pledged that he would “clean up the mess” at the Interior Department after a series of ethical controversies under the Bush administration. A recent investigation found that industry officials engaged in sex and drug use with employees responsible for oil and gas leasing. Also, a political appointee was forced out after she overruled scientific opinions on endangered species.
HERE is a related story about pleas for the National Park Service to receive additional funding.