Implementing the Great American Outdoors Act

December 1, 2020

The Great American Outdoors Act fully funds the Land and Water Conservation Fund at $900 million annually in perpetuity and provides funding to address a $20 billion backlog of deferred maintenance projects at national parks, forests, and other public lands. After decades of advocacy, members of Congress and supporters should be cheering this victory, but unfortunately, implementation is facing new roadblocks.

Two threats to the Land and Water Conservation Fund have emerged in recent weeks, and we’re asking you to write to Congress today to ensure that the Great American Outdoors Act is implemented correctly.

Instead of respecting this historic piece of legislation, the Department of the Interior and its head, Secretary Bernhardt, are delaying implementation and attempting to rewrite the law on LWCF in ways that exceed DOI’s authority and defy Congress.

The Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) instructed the Department of Interior and the U.S Forest Service to submit to Congress two lists of specific projects for each piece of the legislation. One list is to contain deferred maintenance projects to be addressed via the backlog fund, and the other list is to include priority projects to be funded by the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). The Trump administration was given 90 days to produce both lists.

On November 2nd, when the 90-day window expired, only one of the lists was submitted to Congress. The departments of Interior and Agriculture submitted the deferred maintenance list, though the submission was lacking specifics on how the administration intends to fix the aging infrastructure on federal lands. After a weeklong delay, Secretary Bernhardt sent a letter to the chairs and ranking members of the key Congressional appropriations and authorizing committee explaining how his agency plans to spend the LWCF funds.

The delayed LWCF project list still lacked specifics and did not fully comply with the law. Following the late and inadequate project list, in blatant disregard for the law itself, Secretary Bernhardt issued Secretarial Order #3388, which among other restrictions allows local politicians to unilaterally reject federal LWCF projects without a public process and override local landowner wishes to protect their land with LWCF funding. The order is an attempted end-run around Congress, a last-ditch effort to put roadblocks in the path of a successful implementation of the fully-funded Land and Water Conservation Fund. The frustration, concern, and outright anger over the outgoing administration’s lack of commitment to implementing its signature conservation legislation means Congress needs to step in to override the misguided Secretarial Order.

Fortunately for supporters of the GAOA and LWCF, Senate Interior Appropriations Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski released a version of the FY21 Interior Appropriations bill with a spending plan for LWCF more consistent with the GAOA itself. Moving forward, the Senate and House appropriations committees will be the ones determining the final LWCF allocations in the upcoming round of conference negotiations. We urge our members of Congress to reject the Secretarial Order just as they rejected the flawed spending plan submitted by the outgoing administration.

Please act now and write your members of Congress urging them to defend the Great American Outdoors Act and override Secretarial Order 3388.

 

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Liam Martens

AMC Conservation Policy Fellow