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The Great American Outdoors Act Will Prop Up Struggling Outdoor Industry

Update: The Great American Outdoors Act passed through the Senate by a vote of 73-25 in June. Now, in order to cross the finish line, the bill must be passed through the House of Representatives, in a vote taking place on July 22. While Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has indicated she aims to move the bill swiftly through the House, you can still encourage your representatives to vote yes on the bill without further amendments by following this link

After a vote of 80 to 17, the United States Senate invoked cloture on the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA), meaning the assembly will now vote to put the legislation into law. The Great American Outdoors aims to fund the Land and Water Conservation Act an amount equal to 50 percent of all federal revenue from oil, gas, coal, or alternative energy development on federal lands, with the cap for any fiscal year being $1.9 billion for five fiscal years.

The legislation will permanently fund infrastructure for outdoor recreation on public lands to the tune of $900 million per year, which was previously required by the 1965 Land and Water Conservation Act. However, Congress has only been able to provide the full $900 million per year twice since 1965. The stable funding is a crucial step to ensure the health of America’s public lands, especially the National Park Service, which estimates its deferred maintenance cost at more than $20 billion. 

The 2017 National Recreation Economy Report conducted by the Outdoor Industry Association revealed that outdoor recreation accounted for 7.6 million direct national jobs, $887 billion in consumer spending, $65.3 billion in federal tax revenue, and $59.2 billion in state and local tax revenue. Measures put in place by the GAOA are essential in sustaining the financial success of outdoor recreation, which has proven to be an economic mainstay in the country, especially in western states. 

“Our mountain towns were hit hard by COVID-19. The ski season ended early, restaurants closed, and hotels emptied. Now is the time to pass this bill that will provide billions of dollars in funding for new jobs across Colorado and the country while protecting our public lands,” said Colorado Senator Cory Gardner (R), a sponsor of the bill. “I look forward to the Senate passing this legislation quickly and I call on the House of Representatives to be prepared to take it up in short order. Now is the time for bold, bipartisan action to create immediate job opportunities, and the President has already called for this legislation to be sent to his desk for his signature.”

Senator Michael Bennet (D) of Denver, has also sponsored the GAOA, but has proposed adding an amendment to include the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy (CORE) Act, which aims to protect 400,000 acres of public land in the state and establish new wilderness areas and recreational opportunities. The CORE Act was left out of the public lands bill passed by Congress last year.

The legislation was first introduced in March by West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin (D), who has since outlined the benefits the Land and Water Conservation Fund has provided to his home state, and that the GAOA will help sustain that lasting progress for public lands and outdoor recreation.

“To date, 54 of the 55 counties in West Virginia have benefitted from LWCF. It’s responsible for some of our most cherished outdoor spaces in West Virginia. In fact, since 1965, $243 million has been spent to enhance recreation conservation in the Mountain State alone. The LWCF has supported projects at the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge, the Gauley National Recreation Area, and the New River Gorge,” said Manchin. “This is also important to our hunting community. Hunting is a way of life, it’s part of our culture, it’s a tradition we all cherish and value. The Great American Outdoors Act will increase access to federal lands for hunting and fishing… This bill will help us pass on that legacy. I don’t think there’s anything we can do that will be more impactful for our future generations than this legislation.”

The legislation would help alleviate the struggles of the outdoor industry which was hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, beginning first with the closures of ski resorts in the middle of the busy spring break season. These committed funds to deferred maintenance and the Land and Water Conservation Fund will create thousands of jobs and create more opportunities for outdoor recreation on American soil. The hope is that, as visitors flock to state and national parks, national forests, bureau of land management lands, and local open spaces, they will spend billions of dollars at local establishments, helping to revive economies on the local and national level. 

The GAOA utilizes language from two previous bills that saw widespread bipartisan support and has been praised by conservation groups, as well as members on both sides of Congress.

“This will be a remarkable gift for the future and also is important for the present. It’s going to put up to 100,000 people to work each year fixing our national parks,” said Tracy Stone-Manning, associate vice president for public lands at the National Wildlife Federation. “Humans have to have access to nature for our health, and we have a long-term need to protect our larger landscapes.”

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