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Congress Passes Great American Outdoors Act With Bipartisan Support

By Kristen Hildreth | July 24, 2020 | State Legislatures Magazine

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Great American Outdoors Act, 310-107, on July 22 and sent it to President Donald Trump, who is expected to sign it into law, given the bill’s broad support and his encouragement of it on Twitter.

Approved by the Senate in June by a vote of 73-25, the bill would make annual funding for the Land Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) mandatory at $900 million. This amount is nearly double the funding Congress provided to the program in fiscal year 2020, and it’s the first time the program has been guaranteed full, annual funding since its creation in 1964.

The bill would also establish the National Parks and Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund to pay for deferred maintenance projects on lands administered by the National Park Service, the Forest Service and other branches of the Department of the Interior.

The bill would also establish the National Parks and Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund to pay for deferred maintenance projects on lands administered by the National Park Service, the Forest Service and other branches of the Department of the Interior.

Funded by revenues from offshore oil and gas production, the LWCF provides funds for federal acquisition of land and waters, as well as grants to states for outdoor recreational facilities. It supports the protection of federal public lands and waters, including national parks, forests, wildlife refuges and recreation areas, along with voluntary conservation on private land.

It also provides grants to states to acquire and develop public parks and other outdoor recreation sites, to protect and conserve the habitat of threatened and endangered species, and to protect environmentally sensitive forest lands. Overall, the LWCF has protected land in every state and supported more than 41,000 state and local park projects.

State allocations under the LWCF were set last year as part of the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management and Recreation Act. Included were a minimum allocation for state assistance of at least 40% of total funds appropriated from the LWCF and a 40% minimum for federal purposes, though no single state can receive more than 10% of the total appropriation.

The National Parks and Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund, a new creation of the Great American Outdoors Act, would now receive 50% of currently unallocated revenues garnered from the development of oil, gas, coal and renewable energy resources on federal lands and waters, capped at $9.5 billion over five years. The fund would then allocate 70% of those revenues to the National Park Service, 15% to the U.S. Forest Service and 5% each to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the Bureau of Indian Education, all of which could apply the funds toward reducing the nearly $20 billion maintenance backlog in national parks and on public lands

NCSL has advocated for permanent full funding of the LWCF since the passage of The Land and Water Conservation Fund Policy Resolution at the August 2019 Legislative Summit in Nashville, Tenn.

Kristen Hildreth is a senior policy specialist in NCSL's State-Federal Relations Division.

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