A Statement By the Rev. Mitch Hescox
President/CEO of the Evangelical Environmental Network
On the eve of celebrating our nation’s founding on July 4th, there is good news for our National Parks. It comes in the form of recently introduced bipartisan legislation, the Restore Our Parks Act, cosponsored by Senators Rob Portman (R-OH), Mark Warner (D-VA), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), and Angus King (I-ME). The bill would provide $6.5 billion over five years in desperately needed funds to help maintain our parks.
We strongly support the Restore Our Parks Act, S. 3172.
Our National Parks have never been more popular, with 331 million visitors last year. But such popularity has helped to exacerbate a growing problem: a huge backlog of nearly $12 billion in needed maintenance. Just as the dwellings we call home need to be maintained, so too do our National Parks. As the head of the National Parks Conservation Association, Theresa Pierno, puts it: “From Gettysburg to Yellowstone to the Everglades, deteriorating historic buildings, rundown trails and crumbling roads throughout our National Park System are in desperate need of repairs.”
The good news is that funding to reduce the maintenance backlog won’t come from raising taxes or fees, but rather from existing revenue received from energy production on federal lands.
As Senator Portman’s office explains:
“The Restore Our Parks Act would establish the “National Park Service Legacy Restoration Fund” to reduce the maintenance backlog by allocating existing revenues the government receives from on and offshore energy development. This funding would come from 50 percent of all revenues that are not otherwise allocated and deposited into the General Treasury not to exceed $1.3 billion each year for the next five years.”
Why should people of faith care about park maintenance?
Experiencing the beauty and grandeur of nature is a profound spiritual experience for many. For pro-life evangelical Christians like us, it reminds us of our Creator. As the Bible says:
“How many are your works, Lord! In wisdom you made them all”; and “In His hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to Him”; and “The earth is the LORD’s, and the fullness thereof.” (Psalms 104:24, 95:4 and 24:1).
God’s creation testifies to who God is, and we proclaim this in many of our favorite hymns, such as “How Great Thou Art”:
Oh Lord my God
When I in awesome wonder
Consider all the works Thy hands have made
I see the stars
I hear the mighty thunder
Thy power throughout
The universe displayed
Then sings my soul
My Savior, God, to Thee
How great thou art
How great thou art
The awesome wonder of God’s creation reminds pro-life Christians like ourselves that all of humanity is called to be good stewards of the bounty upon which all life depends, to protect and defend the beauty and purity of the land and water, to have clean skies and fresh air for our children to enjoy. That's why over 200,000 pro-life Christians have asked our elected leaders “to protect our parks and federal lands, add new ones, and ensure funding so that every American can enjoy the beauty of God's creation.”
Our National Parks and other public lands are essential to our quality of life. They make available to everyone what belongs to God. They reflect our highest ideals as a nation: that everyone is welcome because all individuals are created equal, endowed with the inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. To step into a National Park and enjoy the beauty of God’s creation is to experience freedom and the richness of life as persons made in the image of God
That’s why we are happy to add our voice in support of the Restore Our Parks Act. Let’s pass it this year, along with the Land and Water Conservation Authorization and Funding Act (S. 569), cosponsored by Senators Richard Burr (R-NC) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA), which permanently reauthorizes the Land Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). Both together will create a sound foundation upon which to build a better future for our National Parks and public lands.