Great American Outdoors Act Breezes Through Senate
Eve Flanigan 06.22.20
On June 17, 2020, the US Senate passed a bill to support conservation efforts on public lands. Senate Bill 3422, nicknamed the Great American Outdoors Act, amends existing legislation to fund the physical maintenance of certain public federal lands.
Federal land leases dedicated to oil and gas drilling, coal extraction, and alternative energy development generate substantial revenues. Under the Act, 50 percent of those revenues, with a cap of $1,900,000,000 for fiscal years 2021-2025, would be shunted to deferred maintenance projects in national parks, US Fish & Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service, and Bureau of Indian Education properties. The bill also mandates annual project for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which will maintain an interest-bearing investment account using the funds.
The Great American Outdoors Act is really an amendment. It adds a chapter to Title 54 of United States code. The bill has garnered what is in modern politics almost-unheard-of enthusiastic bipartisan support. It was sponsored by Republican Cory Gardner, junior Senator from Colorado. The list of co-sponsors is long and includes former Democratic presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar.
The bill is specific in how funds will be allocated. National Park service is allocated 70 percent, Forest Service would receive 15 percent, and the Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Bureau of Indian Education schools would each receive five percent. There is a requirement that, on an annual basis with each agency’s allocation, transportation projects such as paving and bridge/tunnel repairs can comprise no more than 35 percent of the allocation. Priority will be given to other deferred infrastructure maintenance or capital improvement projects. Bonuses for federal employees working on the newly funded projects may not be paid from the funds. Nor can the funds be used to supplant regularly budgeted maintenance expenses or land acquisition.
Investments in projects covered under the bill will purportedly benefit a wide swath of public land users. Hunters, anglers, and adventurers will enjoy improvements to outdoor features in their favorite Parks and federal lands. According to a letter from Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM), all kinds of communities will enjoy greater and closer access to outdoor recreation as a result of the bill’s enactment. The Act funds projects that renovate community water delivery and wastewater treatment facilities, and can be used to restore and build playgrounds to benefit suburban and urban residents.
A primary, non-partisan source of legislation information, GovTrack.us, offers predictive values for passage of bills into law. According to this source, The Great American Outdoors Act has an usually high chance, 82 percent, of becoming law. It moves on to the House of Representatives for inspection and a vote in coming weeks.