WASHINGTON – The U.S. Senate voted Wednesday to pass the Great American Outdoors Act, a bipartisan bill to permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) at $900 million annually and provide $9.5 billion over five years to fix maintenance problems that are plaguing America’s public lands. The final vote on the bill was introduced by Sens. Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Joe Manchin (D-WV), prevailing in the Senate 73-25. Senators Cornyn and Cruz voted against the bill.
“The passage of the Great American Outdoors Act in the Senate is a huge achievement, bringing us closer to finally fully funding America’s best conservation and recreation program,” said Luke Metzger, Executive Director of Environment Texas. “This bill reflects what we all know -- protecting and enhancing our public lands is an essential part of the American ethos. By locking in $900 million a year for outdoor projects, plus providing a short-term infusion of money to address maintenance issues, the Senate is reaffirming that commitment to the natural world.”
This week, almost four dozen Texas conservation, hunting, landowner and travel industry leaders wrote Senator John Cornyn urging him to support the bill. Texas has received more than half a billion dollars from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, supporting everything from the Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge to the Angelina National Forest to Bastrop State Park to Lady Bird Lake. Funding from the Great American Outdoors Act will help address a $154 million maintenance backlog at Texas' 13 national parks, monuments and historical parks as well as provide grants for local and state park acquisition, development and repair.
"Texans love our public lands,” continued Metzger. “Last November, Texans overwhelmingly -- 88% -- voted for Prop 5, which secures funding for our state parks. That was the largest victory of a statewide conservation measure in American history. Whether it’s local parks and hiking trails or national parks or forests, this bill puts appropriate funding behind where our hearts lay. We’re disappointed Senators Cornyn and Cruz felt differently.”
“The Land and Water Conservation Fund legislation has supported projects in all 50 states and every county in the United States. But over the years, $22 billion has been diverted out of the fund and away from conservation. The Great American Outdoor Act puts a lock and key on money that truly is intended for conservation projects. We now urge members of the House to take up and approve this conservation measure -- without adding amendments that could jeopardize the bipartisan balance that has been struck -- as soon as possible,” concluded Metzger.
Environment Texas is a non-profit advocate for clean air, clean water and open spaces based in Austin, Texas.