The Great American Outdoors Act (GAO, S. 3422) was a bipartisan bill introduced in the Senate in early March. The legislation would provide permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and address the nearly $12 billion maintenance backlog in national parks and land management agencies.
The bill builds upon the Land Water Conservation Fund Permanent Funding Act, which would permanently fund LWCF, and the Restore Our Parks Act, which would provide mandatory funding for the National Park Service’s deferred maintenance.
National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and other industry groups have announced their opposition to the bill. In a letter to Congress, NCBA, Public Lands Council (PLC) and the American Sheep Industry Association voiced their concerns over the bill.
“As introduced, the GAO Act, and every other bill that preceded it that contained similar provisions, is an irresponsible way to fix a very real problem,” the letter began.
The groups note land management agencies do face a staggering amount of much-needed maintenance, but the GAO Act does not provide a meaningful or lasting solution.
The groups claim the bill does nothing to change the way federal agencies prioritize maintenance of assets and will result in a larger federal estate that will require increasing maintenance over time.
“Federal agencies currently have more assets than they can afford to maintain,” the letter read. “The GAO Act simultaneously recognizes and attempts to address this while also providing hundreds of millions of dollars each year for the government to buy more land through the LWCF.”
The bill provides funding for maintenance that the groups say, “the government already owns and cannot afford to fund,” while allowing for hundreds of millions of dollars to new acquisitions.
The GAO Act provides $900 million in mandatory funding for LWCF, with at least 40 percent of funding each year available for purchasing land resources across the country. The groups say this is irresponsible, as the federal government already owns more than 640 million acres of land.
“More federal ownership is irresponsible, and in some places it will soon be impossible.”
The letter further reads that the bill increases the burden of American taxpayers for years to come, and Congress will still be required to confront federal maintenance needs through the annual appropriation process. “When Congress permanently authorized LWCF in 2019, there was the recognition that Congress still had a responsibility to safeguard the American landscape and the American taxpayer against irresponsible spending.”
The groups claim the Senate is poised to “willingly abdicate” their oversight of federal land acquisitions, while providing the maximum amount of funding allowable into perpetuity.
“If passed, the GAO Act sentences hundreds of millions of acres of American land and water to a poorly-managed future,” the groups wrote.
The groups note Congress has already provided trillions of dollars in aid to individuals, communities and business as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
“To add billions of dollars to mandatory spending for LWCF is both irresponsible for future Americans who will be forced to confront American debt, and irresponsible for the resource,” the letter concludes. — Anna Miller, WLJ editor