U.S. Senate approves Great American Outdoors Act

Upper house backs legislative package to provide access and maintenance funding for public lands by a 73-25 vote.

WASHINGTON, D.C.—National parks earned a major victory in the final days of spring 2020 – in a piece of good news amidst daily reminds of a global pandemic and civil unrest. The U.S. Senate overwhelmingly supported the Great American Outdoors Act, voting in favor of the bill on June 17.

Billions of dollars of federal funding would be directed to backlogged national parks projects. The federal Land and Water Conservation Fund would also be permanently funded, should the Great American Outdoors Act be signed into law by Pres. Donald J. Trump. The Land and Water Conservation Fund is a funding lifeline for outdoor recreation.

Oil and gas revenues would be used, through the Land and Water Conservation Fund, to expand or protect national parks, according to news reports.

The National Park Service, as proposed by the legislation, would receive $9.5 billion over the next five years for maintenance backlogs. News reports indicate our national parks are suffering from $20 billion in deferred maintenance costs – with the National Park Service responsible for about 60 percent of that amount.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund would be permanently financed to the tune of $900 million annually, if the Great American Outdoors Act is signed into law. The $900 million budget is the fund’s maximum annual allotment, according to news reports.

Congress created the Land and Water Conservation Fund in 1964 as a safeguard for natural areas and water resources. Money for the fund specifically comes from energy company royalties, which are paid for oil and gas drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf.

Portions of the fund are used to protect wildlife habitat. Recreational facilities have been rehabilitated or revitalized through the Land and Water Conservation Fund, according to the National Park Service. The fund also provides millions of dollars for state grants.

More than 1,000 California parks have received funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund since its inception, according to California State Parks.

Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colorado, has been a leading advocate of the Great American Outdoors Act. He called the Senate’s passage of this legislation as “the single greatest conservation achievement in generations.”

“The Senate passed not only the single greatest conservation achievement in generations, but also a lifeline to mountain towns and recreation communities hard by the Covid-19 pandemic,” Gardner said in a released statement.

The Great American Outdoors Act goes to the House of Representatives for final approval before heading to the president’s desk for signature or veto.

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