With a bipartisan vote of 310–107, the U.S. House of Representatives today passed a landmark bill, the Great American Outdoors Act, which will allocate billions of dollars to public lands.
This legislation will provide $900 million to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), a bipartisan program that invests revenue from offshore energy development into public lands and waters. It will also set aside $9.5 billion over the next five years to address the longstanding maintenance backlog at national parks, national forests and other federal public lands.
The bill passed the Senate last month by a vote of 73-25. It’s expected that President Trump, who publicly expressed support of the bill in March, will sign it into law.
“The historic and bipartisan passage of the Great American Outdoors Act highlights the power of the outdoors to unite our country. As a nation, we need to adopt bold policies that provide recreation opportunities for those that lack them, conserve more lands and waters to meet growing demand, and protect and strengthen the lands and waters that are already managed by federal agencies,” said Eric Artz, REI Co-op President and CEO.
The LWCF has funded more than 40,000 projects nationwide since 1965, according to the Department of Interior. But because the funding is discretionary, Congress has diverted, on average, between one-half and two-thirds of LWCF money throughout the program’s lifespan. The Great American Outdoors Act, however, will make that funding permanent.
More funding for public lands can, among other things, create more access to park space and support local economies. The funding could be especially important this year as municipal budgets tighten due to the economic impact of COVID-19, Catherine Nagel, executive director of the City Parks Alliance, told the Co-op Journal in June.
The legislation will also provide money to address the maintenance backlog at national parks, forests and other public lands. The National Park Service alone faces nearly $12 billion in deferred maintenance, which includes things like road repairs and necessary fix-ups to utility systems, according to the NPS.
Seventy percent of the funds will be earmarked for NPS, with 15% to the U.S. Forest Service and 5% each to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the Bureau of Indian Education.
Passing this historic legislation builds on the public lands bill that passed last year with broad bipartisan support. Artz said passing the Great American Outdoors Act accomplishes the goals of protecting public lands and waters, while also connecting more people to quality outdoor spaces.
“This legislation makes a strong commitment to increased recreation access, bridges our political divides, and supports the economy,” he said.
To learn more about the bill, read the Co-op Journal’s previous coverage: