On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives approved the Great American Outdoors Act, which secures funding to protect many U.S. parks and recreation areas. Now all the bill needs is President Trump’s signature.
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The important environmental bill promises permanent funding for the Land Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). While most people aren’t familiar with the fund, it has been working behind the scenes since 1964, using oil and gas industry revenue to pay for national, local and state parks and federal historic sites.
The bill reads, “There shall be deposited into the fund an amount equal to 50% of all federal revenues from the development of oil, gas, coal, or alternative or renewable energy on federal lands and waters.” The fund must be used for priority deferred maintenance projects administered by the National Park Service, Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Indian Education.
While the LWCF has existed for over 50 years, non-conservation projects often siphoned off its funds. In 2020, the fund only received $495 million out of the $900 million put into its account — far below the budget needed to maintain trails and park facilities.
Groups around the country rejoice over this win. “While not costing taxpayers a penny as the funding comes from royalties collected through offshore oil and gas drilling, LWCF has supported over 42,000 parks and recreation projects across the country, secured more than 100 national battlefields and protected more than 2.2 million acres of national parks,” Maite Arce, President and CEO of the Hispanic Access Foundation, said in a statement. “In fact the majority of Americans live only minutes from an LWCF site. Americans of all stripes reap the benefits of these protected places, which help support local businesses and provide outdoor access and opportunities for hunters, fishermen, climbers, hikers, bikers, and campers across America.”
In light of the pandemic hitting the economy hard and keeping people cooped up to the point of stir craziness, the bill’s passage seems especially timely. A recent poll by the National Recreation and Park Association found that 83% of U.S. adults said that access to open spaces, local parks and trails is essential for their mental and physical well-being during these times.
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