PASSAGE FOLLOWS ALEXANDER RECEIVING COMMITMENT FROM INTERIOR SECRETARY SALLY JEWELL TO SUPPORT LEGISLATION REIMBURSING TENNESSEE AND OTHER STATES
WASHINGTON, Nov. 13 – U.S. Senators Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) today announced that the Senate Energy Committee passed legislation they introduced with Senator Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) to reimburse states for funds used to reopen national parks, including Great Smoky Mountains National Park, during the federal government shutdown in October of 2013.
Alexander said: “The Smokies closing was like a BP oil spill for the Gulf, especially for places like Sevier and Blount counties, where the success of many small businesses relies on our country’s most-visited national park. This national treasure shouldn’t have been forced to close in the first place, and our legislation ensures that Tennessee taxpayers won’t be forced to foot the bill for having it reopened.”
Corker said: “Tennesseans take great pride in the fact that millions of people visit our state every year to experience our tremendous outdoors, and I’m pleased the energy committee passed this legislation to ensure Tennessee will be made whole after it had to foot the bill to keep the national park open during last fall’s government shutdown.”
The National Park Access Act, would repay six states that used approximately $2 million in state and local money to reopen national parks, of which Sevier and Blount counties in Tennessee paid $60,100 to reopen Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Last spring, Alexander secured a commitment from U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell to support legislation that would reimburse Tennessee and other states.
During the federal government shutdown in October of 2013, Alexander and Corker worked with Gov. Bill Haslam, local county mayors and other members of the Tennessee congressional delegation to facilitate the reopening of the park. The government shutdown ended when Congress enacted the Continuing Appropriations Act of 2014, which included retroactive funding for the National Park Service that covered park operations for days that had already been paid for by the states. As a result, the National Park Service ended up with approximately $2 million in excess funds for the year, which would be used to reimburse the states.
The legislation passed in committee today builds on Alexander’s efforts starting last fall to reimburse Tennessee for opening the Smokies. According to the most recent National Park Service economics report, 9,685,829 visitors to Great Smoky Mountains National Park spent $741 million in communities near the park in 2012, supporting 10,959 jobs in those areas.
The legislation authored by Flake is also cosponsored by Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), and Mark Udall (D–Colo.). It now must be considered by the full U.S. Senate, as well as the U.S. House of Representatives.