National parks are the crown jewel of America's public lands. Now, they will finally get updates to their aging infrastructures. (NPS Photo/J. Tobiason/)
For decades, the conservation community has been advocating for the full and permanent funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a program that uses royalties from offshore oil and gas operations to purchase new public lands and maintain public access. Today President Donald Trump—who has often been criticized by conservation and public land advocates—signed a bill that will do just that.
“We’re here today to celebrate the passage of truly landmark legislation that will preserve America’s majestic natural wonders, priceless historic treasures—and that’s exactly what they are—grand national monuments, and glorious national parks,” President Trump said before signing the bill. “This is a very big deal, and from an environmental standpoint, and just from a beauty of our country standpoint, there hasn’t been anything like this since Teddy Roosevelt, I suspect.”
The Great American Outdoors Act achieves two main goals. The first is a decisive victory in the decades-old battle to secure full funding for the LWCF, at $900 million annually. Until now, advocates had to renew the case for funding each year, and their efforts have only ever been partially effective. Since its establishment in 1964, the LWCF has only been fully funded twice. And, if you tally up how much that appropriations process left on the table, as the LWCF Coalition has, you’ll find that Congress diverted more than $22 billion from public lands and waters over the past six decades.
Second, the GAOA will chip away at the $16 billion worth of maintenance backlogs on federal land by establishing The National Parks and Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund. This new fund—earmarked for deferred maintenance projects—will receive a maximum of $1.9 billion annually to be divided among federal land management agencies over five years. Like the LWCF, it’s funded by federal revenue from energy development. Most of this fund will be allocated to National Parks, which bear the lion’s share of maintenance issues, but it’s still a win for public land owners everywhere—especially since some politicians have used the backlog as an excuse to stop funding and acquiring new public lands.
Originally introduced in March, the GAOA since gained momentum with 60 total cosponsors from both sides of the aisle. In particular, senators Steve Daines (R-MT) and Cory Gardner (R-CO) championed the bill in the Senate, where it passed 73 to 25 in June.