Posted on July 23, 2020 by Philip Tabas
The US’s most important conservation program is about to get the assured funding that its creators envisioned 55 years ago.
The US House of Representatives voted 310-107 on July 22nd to approve the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA.) Earlier, on June 17th, the Senate passed the GAOA with a 73-25 vote. This is an overwhelming show of bipartisan support for the bill, which would fully and permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) at $900 million annually and invest $1.9 billion annually for the next five years toward maintenance in national parks and other public lands.
The President has promised to sign the bill when it gets to his desk.
Enacted in in 1964, the LWCF provides funding to protect America’s most treasured places. Over the past five plus decades, it has touched every state, conserving national parks and forests, lands adjacent to rivers, lakes and oceans, working forests, farms and ranches, fish and wildlife refuges, trails, and state and local parks.
LWCF uses revenues from the depletion of one natural resource – offshore oil and gas – to support the conservation of other natural resources – the Nation’s lands and waters. Every year, $900 million in royalties paid by energy companies drilling for oil and gas on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) are put into the LWCF fund. The money is intended to protect national parks, areas around rivers and lakes, national forests, and national wildlife refuges from development, and to provide matching grants for state and local parks and recreation projects. Over the years, LWCF has also grown to include grants to protect working forests, wildlife habitat, critical drinking water supplies and disappearing battlefields, as well as increased use of easements.
The LWCF was permanently authorized in 2019, but that did not guarantee that the $900 million put into the LWCF account every year would actually be spent on conservation. Over the 55 years of the program, billions of dollars have been siphoned from the fund for other non-conservation purposes. In fact, this past fiscal year 2020, only $495 million was appropriated to LWCF—far short of full funding, and yet the highest amount in 15 years. Enactment of GAOA will guarantee that LWCF will finally receive the full funding that was originally envisioned.