White House

Trump administration approves plan for restroom cleanup, trash collection at national parks

Recreation fees will pay for basic operational support, Interior Department says

Volunteer Alexandra Degen cleans a restroom at Joshua Tree National Park in California on Jan. 4. A new plan approved by the Interior Department would allow recreation fee funds to pay for cleaning restrooms at National Parks amid the partial government shutdown. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

As the partial government shutdown enters Day 16, the restrooms at national parks are going to be cleaned.

Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt is moving to authorize the use of collected recreation fees at National Park Service sites to pay for basic operational support, which had been halted due to the shutdown.

“The directive provides for the use of recreation fee funds, where available, to clean up and maintain: restrooms and sanitation, trash collection, road maintenance — which includes plowing, campground operations, law enforcement and emergency operations, and staff entrance gates as necessary to provide critical safety information,” Bernhardt wrote in a Sunday letter to Sen. Steve Daines.

The Montana Republican had written to Bernhardt the previous day seeking an adjustment to the Interior Department’s implementation of the shutdown at National Park Services sites.

Montana is home to two of the most visited national parks in the country — Yellowstone and Glacier.  Bernhardt’s letter said the Office of Management and Budget approved the revised shutdown plan late Saturday.

“The NPS currently has funds derived from entrance, camping, parking and other fees collected from park visitors that would typically be used for future projects at parks. After consultation with the Office of the Solicitor at the Department of the Interior, it has been determined that these funds can and should be used to provide immediate assistance and services to highly visited parks during the lapse in appropriations,” Park Service Deputy Director P. Daniel Smith said in a separate statement.

The Park Service indicated that smaller sites could remain shuttered for the duration of the partial shutdown, with the funding stream being used to “allow the American public to safely visit many of our nation’s national parks while providing these iconic treasures the protection they deserve.”

“Our communities should not be in danger as a result of the political games going on in Washington, DC,” Daines said in a statement. “I’m glad to see the Department of Interior will fund these critical programs while the government is shut down, supporting those in Montana's gateway communities and protecting our national parks.”

But the new chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee is among those asking whether laws governing the federal spending allow the policy shift.

“President Trump and his advisors apparently just woke up to the fact that the shutdown they created several weeks ago has done terrible damage to our country. The American people already own our national parks and fund their upkeep,” Arizona Democrat Raúl M. Grijalva said. “The president expects them to either pay more to keep the toilets clean out of their own pockets or pay millions of dollars for his ridiculous wall. Either way, this president is only happy as long as the American people pay for his every whim whenever it suits him. This is not how a rational president behaves, and the Natural Resources Committee will demand answers about whether these moves are legally justified.”

The Washington Post first reported the shift in Park Service policy, including questions about the legality of tapping into the fee collections.

Also watch: Schumer says Trump holding federal employees ‘hostage’

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