Congress passes legislation to fund parks, conservation
The environmental community has been celebrating since the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Great American Outdoors Act July 22, sending the landmark legislation to the desk of President Donald Trump, who is expected to sign it into law.
If enacted, the legislation will provide dedicated funding to reduce the National Park Service’s deferred maintenance backlog and fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund. For years, the Park Service has experienced chronic underfunding including a reduction in staffing and a growing backlog of nearly $12 billion in needed repairs — all while dealing with record visitation. The legislation will dedicate up to $9.5 billion over five years to address the highest-priority repair needs.
In Fiscal Year 2018, the Blue Ridge Parkway had a deferred maintenance backlog of more than $500 million but receives only $15 to $20 million each year for maintenance work. In the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, more than 75 percent of the park’s deferred maintenance needs were associated with its 384 miles of roads, totaling $186 million. The Foothills Parkway needs $44 million and Newfound Gap Road requires $22.8 million.
The bill will also provide $900 million per year to the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which for 50 years has protected land for parks, wildlife refuges and recreation nationwide. The program is funded using a portion of revenues from offshore oil and gas royalty payments but has seen trouble in recent years, with the program lapsing for six months between September 2018 and March 2019 after Congress failed to pass reauthorizing legislation in time. The program was permanently reauthorized last year, but advocates have been working to see the program receiving full funding as well, as revenues had been diverted since the fund’s 1964 creation.