The Great American Outdoors (GAO) Act made its way through the House of Representatives July 22. The bipartisan bill was introduced in the Senate in early March, and passed June 17. President Donald Trump is expected to sign the legislation.
The GAO Act would provide $17 billion in new mandatory spending—including $900 million in permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF)—to address the nearly $12 billion maintenance backlog in national parks and land management agencies.
On the cover, what is there not to like? It’s been described as a bill that encourages economic growth, supports public lands and waters, and has bipartisan support.
Ag industry groups have expressed their opposition to the bill, calling it an “irresponsible way to fix a very real problem.”
A letter sent to Congress last month by National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), Public Lands Council (PLC) and American Sheep Industry read, “Federal agencies currently have more assets than they can afford to maintain. 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 would give agencies “free reign,” according to NCBA, to spend a minimum of $360 million per year of LWCF funding for the acquisition of new private land.
Upon the announcement of the bill’s passage in the House, NCBA Executive Director of Natural Resources and PLC Executive Director Kaitlynn Glover said, “This is a sad day for public lands and the American taxpayer… The bill will allow virtually unrestricted spending for lands and waters across the United States that will be added to a federal estate that is already in disrepair.”
Glover urged Trump to veto the bill. — Anna Miller, WLJ editor