The U.S. House on Wednesday followed the Senate’s lead and overwhelmingly passed historic public lands legislation to guarantee federal funds for local, state and national parks, trails and recreation facilities.
The bipartisan vote was 310–107.
The Great American Outdoors Act, expected to be signed into law by President Donald Trump shortly, guarantees annual funding of $900 million to the Land and Water Conservation Fund for parks and open spaces.
One of the priorities in what is considered the most ambitious public lands legislation in 50 years is to create a five-year trust fund to tackle an estimated $21 billion maintenance backlog in national parks, national forests, wildlife refuges and federal Bureau of Land Management lands.
This would be the first dedicated funding stream for the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, which has doled out $19 billion for public recreation in almost every county in the United States since it was created in 1965.
Congress dictated that funding come from offshore oil and gas operations, not tax dollars. And each year, Congress has siphoned money from the fund for other purposes — $22 billion to date.
Now, if signed into law by the president, that funding would be protected and dedicated for open lands and public recreation.
Advocates of the bill say with Americans seeking out parks and trails in record numbers because of the coronavirus, there is a need to expand outdoor recreation opportunities in both urban and rural areas. Proponents also say it will create jobs, pump money into a staggered economy and help fight climate change.
The bill survived attempts over the past several days to add amendments or defeat it. Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah cited a new report from the Congressional Research Service that warned that reduced oil and gas production due to the coronavirus may cause a shortfall in funding. He unsuccessfully pushed for an amendment to stipulate that if there was a shortfall, money would go first to repair federal parks and lands rather than to promoting projects on local and state levels.
Other amendments that failed would have guaranteed more funding for Gulf Coast states and required building materials to come from the United States only.
Some legislators, especially from Western states, were against the bill because they don’t want the federal government to acquire any more land. They complained that the government can’t manage what it has now.