How offshore oil could fuel urban parks if a new bill passes

A proposal to use funds drawn from offshore oil and gas leases to help build urban parks is the first bill introduced by Southern California's newly-elected U.S. Rep. Nanette Diaz Barragán, who represents the 44th District.

The Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership Program Act, introduced late last month, aims to increase the number of green spaces in cities in order to “improve the lives overall of the community, primarily in underserved communities,”  Barragán said during a press conference Monday.

The percentage of Americans living in urban areas has climbed to more than 80 percent, according to data from the United Nations. Among those urban populations, low-income and minority communities are less likely to live near green spaces, which provide health benefits to people who can access them.

The proposed legislation would legally secure funding for a National Park Service program that was originally funded by Congress in 2014.

Oil and gas companies lease portions of the ocean owned by the federal government, and under a 2006 law the government is required to set aside a portion of those funds to be used for various purposes. If the bill passes, 20 percent of that money would go toward funding projects under the Park Service’s program.

Barragán said she wanted to take this existing source of revenue and “try to put it into some good” through the program. Barragán’s told KPCC she has “always been someone that’s been trying to preserve open spaces.”

States, cities, counties and tribes would be able to apply for grants under the program, which they would have to match in funds. Urban projects that “engage and empower underserved communities” and “provide opportunities for youth employment,” among other qualifications, would be given priority.

Barragán cited the San Pedro waterfront development project, the L.A. River Revitalization project and Wilmington’s JC Sports Field Complex as initiatives that might be eligible for funding. “I think this is just the start of possibilities of what we can use it for,” Barragán said.

The bill is still in its beginning stages — it was moved to subcommittee review on June 27. However, Barragán is hopeful the bill will make it to a vote. President Donald Trump has been working to reshape federal environmental regulations since he took office, including proposing dramatic cuts to funding for the Environmental Protection Agency and rolling back several Obama-era policies, but Barragán's bill has received bipartisan support in the House.

Barragán said she was able to get Republican co-sponsors for the bill because it proposes drawing funding from an existing revenue source that wouldn’t require taxpayer support. Barragán said she believes this legislation “was a great way to bring people together” while working to protect the environment in the coming years.

“This is not a Democratic or Republican issue. Open space and parks really is something for everybody,” Barragán said. “We haven’t had any vocal critics on the bill yet.”

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