Scenic America was able to announce two big legislative victories for scenic conservation this week. For more on our OTHER victory, the successful amendments to H.R. 2, formerly the INVEST in America Act, and the funding of the National Scenic Byways Program as well as the undergrounding of utility wires, click here.
On Wednesday, June 17, the Senate passed the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA), which provides full and permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), and provides major funding toward maintaining our National Parks and other federal lands. The GAOA passed the Senate by a wide and bipartisan 73-25 margin. It still needs to pass the House and be signed into law, but Senate passage was a major hurdle.
For those who have been following the intense efforts by the Scenic America and its coalition allies to permanently authorize and fund the LWCF and also fix our National Parks, the GAOA’s passage is huge news. The GAOA will provide nearly $900 million a year to the LWCF, which has been called one of the most important pieces of environmental legislation ever passed.
“There’s no other way to put it,” said Scenic America’s President, Mark Falzone. “This could not be a bigger victory. Fully funding the LWCF and addressing our parks’ maintenance backlog has been a top priority not only for our organization, but for many others, and the day seems to be here at last.”
Created by Congress in 1964, the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) was passed to direct revenues from offshore oil and gas drilling to environmental preservation. The LWCF has supported the creation and maintenance of our national parks, national wildlife refuges, national battlefields, and national forests – as well as state and local land conservation, water conservation, parks, trails and sports fields in every state in our nation.
On March 12, 2019, the LWCF was permanently reauthorized, which means it no longer faced the possibility of expiring. But it still lacked funding, and that has contributed to another major effort by our community – addressing the shocking, almost $11.9 billion maintenance backlog in our national parks, not to mention on our other federal lands.
With the passage of the GAOA, we can begin to address the most critical maintenance needs for the National Park Service’s highest priority infrastructure, including repair and improvement of trails, roads, bridges, water systems, and more. Under the bill, $1.9 billion in additional funds per year is set aside to fund priority deferred maintenance projects in federal fiscal years 2021-2025. Of that, 70% is allocated to the National Park Service, 15% to the U.S. Forest Service, and 5% each to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Bureau of Indian Education.
Neglect of our national parks has not only impacted the enjoyment and access of millions of visitors, it has also limited the economic benefits that surrounding communities can receive from providing services to those visitors. With COVID-19 already impacting those communities, this funding could not come at a better time.
As we said, the GAOA goes to the House next, so stay tuned for next steps. This legislation has been a decade in the making, and is a huge accomplishment.
Congratulations to all our supporters and coalition partners who helped make this happen.