July 22, 2020

Udall Hails Historic House Passage of the Great American Outdoors Act

The Great American Outdoors Act fully and permanently funds LWCF, fulfilling a long-term Udall goal, and creates fund to address the maintenance backlog at national parks and other public lands

WASHINGTON—Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.), ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies, applauded the House passage of legislation he has long championed – the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) – which fully and permanently funds the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) at $900 million per year, every year, and makes a major $9.5 billion down payment toward the maintenance backlog in the country’s national parks and federal land agencies over the next five years. The Senate passed the legislation in June, and the legislation now goes to the president, who has publicly committed to signing it into law. 

“With House passage of this historic legislation, we are now one step away from finally enacting my father Stewart Udall’s original vision: a conservation program that is fully funded and guaranteed each year, so that communities across the country can plan long-term for how to best protect and create their own unique outdoor spaces—from rugged wilderness to neighborhood baseball fields. After working toward this goal for 20 years in Congress, I look forward to this bill being signed into law so we can get to work on preserving America’s national treasures so generations to come can continue to experience all they have to offer,” said Udall. 

“At a time of pandemic and economic crisis, our country’s unmatched National Parks and public lands can also drive local economic development, create jobs, and provide outdoor refuge for millions of Americans – investing in them must play a key role in our national recovery. The Great American Outdoors Act will create jobs at a crucial time, building the infrastructure needed to support the millions of visitors who come from all over the world to explore, camp, fish, hunt, and enjoy the natural wonders of our public lands in New Mexico and the U.S.”

The landmark legislation will, for the first time, fully and permanently fund LWCF at $900 million per year, with a permanent authorization that does not expire. Udall helped lead the push in Congress to permanently reauthorize the nation’s most successful conservation program last year, and has supported legislation to fully fund the LWCF ever since his first time in Congress, cosponsoring and voting for legislation (H.R. 701) that would have fully funded LWCF that passed the House in 2000, but failed to become law. The GAOA poses no additional cost to LWCF, which is funded by a portion of offshore leasing revenue, and used to add land to national parks, wildlife refuges, ball fields, and city parks. 

In New Mexico, LWCF has invested more than $312 million to protect public lands and open spaces and increase recreational opportunities since enacted in 1964. New Mexico's $9.9 billion outdoor industry – which is built around outdoor spaces supported by LWCF – is a significant economic driver in the state, supporting 99,000 jobs and $2.8 billion in wages. Fully and permanently funding the LWCF will translate directly into aiding our economic recovery from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As part of the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act, enacted in February 2019 (Public Law 116-9), Congress permanently authorized the LWCF. However, expenditures from the LWCF continued to be subject to federal appropriations. The Great American Outdoors Act instead makes $900 million available in mandatory funding every year, on a permanent basis. The LWCF is not funded using taxpayer dollars, using royalties from offshore oil and gas for program revenue.

The bill also provides $9.5 billion over five years for deferred maintenance projects at the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Bureau of Indian Education schools. The deferred maintenance funding comes from onshore federal natural resource leasing revenue, not taxes. 

The full breakdown of the $1.9 billion in annual funding for deferred maintenance each year includes:

- 70 percent allocated for the National Park Service
- 15 percent for the U.S. Forest Service
- 5 percent for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
- 5 percent for the Bureau of Land Management, and
- 5 percent for Bureau of Indian Education schools.

The full text of the bill is available HERE.