In a bipartisan vote of 73-25, the Senate just passed the Great American Outdoors Act. The bill now goes before the House, where it should pass with overwhelming support, then to the President’s desk, where Trump is expected to sign it after voicing support in recent weeks.
We’ve covered the bill, in its various forms quite a bit over the past two years as it’s been proposed, tweaked, and worked its way through Senate committees to arrive at this point. We have an excellent breakdown, here, from last week, that explains how this bill secures full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund to the tune of $900 million per year, even though a bill that permanently authorized the LWCF was passed into law last year.
The LWCF is, essentially, authorized to purchase easements to protect public lands, secure more public lands, and ensures access to public lands. We have a good explainer, here.
The LWCF, which siphons money from royalties the government makes for allowing resource extraction on public lands, has been on the books for decades, but every few years lawmakers consider letting it lapse, and they never allocate the full $900 million funding. With the passage of the John Dingell Act last year, it’s now permanent. The Great American Outdoors Act, will, however, also ensure the full $900 million fills public lands coffers. None of which comes from taxpayers—this is all money generated by natural resource mining, drilling, etc.
It goes further by also allocating $1.5 billion annually over the next five years to address the backlog in maintenance facing the national park system.
Make no mistake, this is a huge win for public lands advocates in a time when we sure could use good news on that front.
It marks a successful lobbying effort by, well, us. Not “us” meaning team AJ, but us as in, all of us who love the outdoors. Dirtbags, guide services, bike shops, conservationists, ecologists, climbers, paddlers, hunters, anglers, birdwatchers, runners, surfers, hikers—all of us. Congress listened to our cries to protect public lands, and they really listened to studies that show the hundreds of billions of dollars the outdoor industry generates for the economy.
Outdoor Alliance, which has worked tirelessly on passage of the bill, (and which has outlined further actions we can take) compiled the following quotes in a press release:
“This bill represents the culmination of years of work by people across the country, and across the political spectrum, who value public lands and outdoor recreation. Every single person who’s taken action for the Land and Water Conservation Fund and to restore our Parks and other public lands deserves a round of applause today. It’s heartening to see that even in a time when it seems Congress can’t agree on anything, they still recognize the importance of investing in public lands,” said Hilary Eisen, Policy Director at Winter Wildlands Alliance.
“The Mountaineers are thrilled to see this historic, bipartisan legislation get closer to the finish line. Outdoor enthusiasts across Washington state have spoken up for LWCF for years, as the program has helped fund trails, parks, river put-ins, trailheads, and access to climbing areas in the Pacific Northwest. We’re especially grateful for Senator Cantwell’s tireless support of LWCF and all her efforts to get this bill through the Senate,” said Tom Vogl, CEO at The Mountaineers.
“The Surfrider Foundation applauds the Senate’s passage of the Great American Outdoors Act. This historic legislation will not only protect outstanding coastal areas across the U.S., but also provide close-to-home recreation opportunities for all Americans. We urge the House of Representative to swiftly pass the bill as well so it can be signed into law,” said Pete Stauffer, Environmental Director, Surfrider Foundation.
It’s unclear when the House will take up the vote, but we’ll update when that happens.
Photo: Jesse Gardner