The U.S. Senate passed the Great American Outdoors Act, which would provide $9.5 billion to repair national parks and permanently direct $900 million a year for outdoor recreation on public lands.
The annual funding would come from offshore oil drilling revenues to pay for city parks, swimming pools, sports fields, fishing piers, trails and campgrounds in all 50 states, including in urban areas with limited park resources.
The bill, known as the “Great American Outdoors Act,” passed the Senate 73-25. A House vote is expected n the next few weeks.
Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner introduced the bill with West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat, with the support of Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet.
Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., has been leading the effort for years to provide financial relief to national parks. He first introduced legislation three years ago to deal with the backlog of maintenance projects in national parks.
“Over the past few years, I’ve been sounding the alarm on the mounting costs associated with repairing and maintaining our national park sites across the commonwealth,” Warner said. “Frankly, the National Park Service hasn’t had the federal resources it needs to preserve our natural treasures in Virginia and across the country. Failing to act now would have put these historical treasures at risk, and would have taken a devastating toll on small towns and communities whose economies depend on Virginia’s outdoor tourism industry.”
“This a shining example of Democrats and Republicans coming together to put politics aside and do what’s best for conserving America’s great natural resources,” said Manchin, a leading Democratic co-sponsor of the bill, ahead of the vote Wednesday.
“In addition to preserving our national treasures for future generations to enjoy, this legislation will also create tens of thousands of jobs across the country and provide a positive economic impact for gateway communities that depend on our national parks,” Warner said.
“Public lands are part of our legacy, our culture, and our history in Colorado,” Bennet said in a statement. “After a decade of leading this effort, I’m thrilled the Senate has finally passed funding for LWCF.
“This is the culmination of years of hard work by Coloradans – from county commissioners and local elected leaders to conservation groups, hunters and anglers, and outdoor recreation businesses. They have put in the work, year after year, calling for Congress to fully fund LWCF, invest in our public lands, and support our state’s economy. Their dedication and advocacy are why we were able to pass this bill today.”
Sen. Bill Cassidy, a Republican from Louisiana, led the charge of senators who argued that the bill distributes an unequal amount of funds to inland states.
“We’re going to spend billions. But we’re going to spend billions in the wrong way, repairing damage on the coast that could have been prevented if we’d spent millions now,” Cassidy said during a floor speech last week.
The National Park Service estimates a $12 billion maintenance backlog at its sites across the country, which includes $213 million for the Blue Ridge Parkway, $89 million for the Shenandoah National Park and $1.4 million for the Booker T. Washington National Monument in Franklin County.
President Trump has endorsed the spending package.