After Gardner-Daines Push, U.S. House Passes Great American Outdoors Act, Trump Set To Sign Bill
A landmark bill to backfill billions in National Park Service maintenance backlogs passed the U.S. House Wednesday and is headed to the president’s desk.
The Great American Outdoors Act, sponsored by U.S. Sens. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Steve Daines (R-Mont.), received overwhelming bipartisan support as it sailed through the House, delivering more than $6 billion over five years from oil and gas production royalties on federal lands to tackle the nagging backlog of maintenance, upgrades, and other infrastructure support needed by the nation’s national parks and recreation areas.
Daines recognized the achievement reached with his Colorado colleague, Gardner.
“The U.S. House just passed in a strong bipartisan vote, the Great American Outdoors Act. This is the most important conservation legislation in over 50 years, protecting our public lands, our national parks, it is what we are all about in Montana,” Daines said. “The good news is I secured an agreement from President Trump a few months ago to sign this bill once it’s on his desk. This is a great day for Montana. This is a great day for America.”
Full, mandatory funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund at $900 million is included, doubling the current funding level, according to Daines. Maintenance backlogs, at approximately $12 billion, include $700 million for Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks in Montana, and nearly $85 million for Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado.
The bill passed 310-107 in the U.S. House. The Colorado delegation split along party lines, with Republican U.S. Reps. Scott Tipton, Doug Lamborn, and Ken Buck voting against the bill and Democratic Reps. Diana DeGette, Ed Perlmutter, Joe Neguse, and Jason Crow voting in favor of the legislation.
The House vote followed a 73 to 25 vote in the U.S. Senate in June.
“By fixing and repairing our public lands and National Parks, we not only have the chance to improve the roads, hiking trails, campsites, and visitor centers for generations to enjoy, but also to create thousands of job opportunities in Colorado and across the nation at a time when our country needs them most,” said Gardner after the House vote.
Before the vote, President Donald Trump signaled his support for the legislation, calling out the efforts of Senate sponsors Gardner and Daines by name.
“We MUST protect our National Parks for our children and grandchildren. I am calling on the House to pass the GREAT AMERICAN OUTDOORS ACT today. Thanks @SenCoryGardner and @SteveDaines for all your work on this HISTORIC BILL!” Trump tweeted.
House Democrats praised the bill.
“We have a generational opportunity to ensure America’s crown jewels are protected,” said U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.). The Arizona Democrat chairs the House Natural Resources Committee.
He also touted the bipartisanship of the bill, saying it “goes beyond politics,” and shows that on important issues, the House can “work together to find common ground.”
Trumps’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, will head to Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park along with Gardner and Interior Secretary David Bernhardt to celebrate the bill’s passage later in the week.
Tens of thousands of jobs are expected from the bill’s funding, with jobs for restoration, maintenance, and upgrades to the nation’s parks, forests, recreation areas and other federal lands.
Others touted the contributions made by natural resource production on federal lands, which were key to getting the funding needed for the parks maintenance backlogs.
Some of the deferred maintenance includes basic infrastructure like water and bathroom refitting and road repairs, along with typical necessary maintenance to trails and campgrounds. Nearly $2 billion will be allocated each year for the next five years.
Last year, Western Wire featured a multi-part series covering a handful of national parks in the west whose maintenance backlogs not only measured in the tens to hundreds of millions of dollars, but would soon be crippling, as roads crumbled, ancient water systems failed, and the preservation of priceless treasured heritage sites went unfunded.
Before the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, the parks were expected to bring $40 billion in annual benefits to neighboring cities and gateway communities to the vast complex of parks across the country.
“You’re welcome! Oil and natural gas production on non-park, non-wilderness public lands will now help meet the mounting needs of our national parks,” said Kathleen Sgamma, president of Western Energy Alliance. “Offshore production has been funding 100 percent of the Land and Water Conservation Fund for many years, and now onshore public lands development will likewise contribute directly to conservation. We’re pleased to see that a bipartisan majority in Congress recognizes that we can responsibly produce oil and natural gas on public lands while protecting the environment.”
Western Wire is a project of Western Energy Alliance.
“Oil and natural gas has become a political football in 2020. Vice President Joe Biden has called for a ban on new oil and natural gas permits on public lands if elected. Three weeks ago the House majority released a climate plan calling for a moratorium on oil and natural gas leasing on public lands. However, those same lawmakers today passed a bill that depends on the revenues produced from leased public lands. Without the royalty payments we provide, the conservation anticipated by this bill isn’t possible,” added Sgamma.
Some House Republicans opposed the legislation. Utah Republican Rob Bishop, the ranking member on the House Natural Resources Committee, called the act “a perfect example of Washington playing political games.”
He pointed to the current coronavirus pandemic and Washington spending as reasons for his opposition to the bill.
“At a time when America is putting a record amount of debt on the backs of future generations to cope with COVID-19, now is not the time for reckless spending or new mandatory programs that have nothing to do with the pandemic or stimulating growth,″ Bishop said.
Montanans praised the bill and the efforts of Daines, who like his Colorado counterpart Gardner is facing a tough re-election battle this fall.
“Montanans love our outdoor heritage, public lands and open spaces. The Great American Outdoors Act is an important investment in conservation, it secures resources needed to care for our public lands and helps us seize future opportunities to enhance the places where we work and play,” said Mark Aagenes, Director of External Affairs for the Montana Chapter of The Nature Conservancy.
“At a time when Americans are more eager than ever to get outside, overdue maintenance at our national campgrounds and parks remains a threat to the entire RV and outdoor industry. The historic Great American Outdoors Act will address years of deferred maintenance backlog and create sustainable funding for our public lands and national parks into the future,” said Russell Pierce, President MMH & RV Dealers Association. “Thanks to Senator Daines’ leadership, our cherished national lands will continue to serve as a place of relaxation and refuge for generations of Montanans and visitors alike.”
API Colorado Executive Director Lynn Granger said the bill’s wide-ranging support includes “grants that protect working forests, wildlife habitats, drinking water supplies and other critical environmental assets.” Granger also pointed to the importance of the bill’s offshore resources for funding, as states like Colorado draw from energy production to support their parks.
“Colorado’s national and state parks, recreation areas and conservation programs rely on the continued support of safe offshore energy production, this underscores the importance of maintaining access to offshore resources,” Granger added.