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Public Lands Win: Great American Outdoors Act Passes Senate, Moves to House

The Grand Prismatic, Yellowstone National Park; (photo/Jim Peaco via NPS)
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The Great American Outdoors Act nearly soared through the legislative branches in March, but COVID-19 set it back. Yesterday morning, it passed the Senate.

Two months ago, public land advocates were being tentative but clear with their hope: It looked as if the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) would swiftly move into law. The setbacks by the imminent dangers of COVID-19 were necessary and dire. But the bill is now in the midst of its second wind, and that wind is moving quickly.

Over the past few weeks, energy for the GAOA has ramped up. The Senate passed the bill in a 73-25 vote, sending it to the House for a final vote. If passed, the legislation would then move to President Trump’s desk. The president tweeted support for the bill in March, and it’s expected that he would sign the bill into law should it pass the House.

What This Means for Public Lands & the American People

Badlands National Park; photo credit: NPS/David Restivo

The GAOA combines two major issues currently facing initiatives on public lands: fully funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and addressing much of the enormous backlog of deferred maintenance issues within the National Park Service, the Forest Service, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Bureau of Indian Education. It would allocate $9.5 billion for the backlog across the departments over 5 years.

Entirely funded by offshore oil royalties, the LWCF provides funding for outdoor recreation across the country. Every county in the United States has an LWCF-funded project within its boundaries, from city parks to rural baseball fields to small acquisitions of easements and wildlife habitat.

Since 1964, more than 40,000 projects have been completed. And the GAOA would fully fund the LWCF into perpetuity.

A Bipartisan Effort in a Partisan Moment

The grand surprise of the GAOA is the rarified coming together of bipartisan legislators at a time when the country couldn’t seem more politically divided. Introduced by Republicans Cory Gardner of Colorado and Steve Daines of Montana, the bill has a plenitude of co-sponsors — 59 senators, to be exact.

Passing the Senate was all but assured with the co-signatures of so many senators. And the House looks to be moving in the same direction. Part of the bipartisan effort comes in response to COVID-19, as this bill could potentially create 100,000 jobs in the outdoor recreation space.

“Years of bipartisan work have led to this moment and this historic opportunity for conservation,” said Senator Gardner. “Today, the Senate passed not only the single greatest conservation achievement in generations but also a lifeline to mountain towns and recreation communities hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I call on the House of Representatives to pass this bill without delay in order to provide jobs to the American people, economic stimulus to communities in need, and protections for the great American outdoors for future generations of Americans to cherish.”

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