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Congress Passes Historic Great American Outdoors Act

On Wednesday July 22, 2020 the House of Representatives passed the Great American Outdoors Act on a bipartisan vote of 310 to 107.  The Act passed the Senate last month by a wide margin and is now ready for the President’s signature. When fully enacted the GAOA will provide $9.5 billion over 5 years to address crumbling infrastructure in public lands overseen by the National Park Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Forest Service.

Perhaps the most significant feature of the GAOA is that it will permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund. This Fund was set up in 1960 to acquire and maintain significant but threatened public lands for conservation purposes. It was intended to receive $900 million each year, but money was often siphoned off. For example, in the 2020 fiscal year only $495 million was appropriated to LWCF—far short of full funding, and yet the highest amount in 15 years.

Funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund does not require taxpayer dollars. It is paid for by royalty payments on offshore gas and oil leases on federal land. The only significant opposition to the GAOA came from legislators from Gulf states who wanted more money from the Land and Water Conservation Fund to be earmarked for projects in their states.

Outdoor sporting organizations are ecstatic about the passage of the GAOA. The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation said:

Collectively, BLM, USFWS, and USFS annually support more than 25 million hunting days and nearly 45 million fishing days, highlighting the importance of these lands for America’s sportsmen and women as well as the outdoor economy. Additionally, funding to address these agencies’ maintenance backlog will create over 100,000 employment opportunities.

West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin was a steady supporter of the GAOA, at one point taking the Senate floor to urge passage in that body.