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Senate surprisingly passes bill to fund billions in repairs for America's national parks

Proof that even in this divided political moment, we can come together to achieve important things.

Senate surprisingly passes bill to fund billions in repairs for America's national parks
NPCA Photos / Flickr

The Republican-controlled Senate passed the Great American Outdoors Act on June 17 that provides billions for the National Park Service and the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). The LWCF uses oil and gas revenues to help fund national parks, forests, neighborhood parks and trails, wildlife refuges and cultural sites.

The bill, passed by a 73 to 25 vote, has the support of the president and is projected to make it through the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives.

The bill's passage is a surprise given that President Trump has a terrible record when it comes to protecting federal public lands. "President Trump is the only president in U.S. history to have removed more public lands than he protected," says an analysis by the Center for American Progress.

The bill is a big win for America's national parks and the people across the world who enjoy them. The bill allocates $9.5 billion towards addressing the National Park Service and other federal land-management agencies' huge backlog in maintenance projects.

Due to budget constraints, these public lands have over $12 billion in deferred projects. The bill also calls for the LWCF to be fully funded to its maximum allotment of $900 million.

via erin _pass / Flickr

Most of the work will be done to repair the pre-existing infrastructure in the parks. Much of it dates back over fifty years and is in serious need of repair.

Democratic Senator Martin Heinrich of New Mexico believes the bill will provide a big boost to the economy at a time when the country's economic future looks bleak.

"We are going to have to rebuild the economy, and this can be a really big part of that," Heinrich said, "our trails and campgrounds aren't in the shape that they should be, which directly impacts economic activity on public lands and in gateway communities."

Heinrich says that outdoor recreation contributes $778 billion in annual consumer spending and supports 5.2 million jobs. The senator also believes that our public lands are more important than ever in the COVID-19 era.

"We are seeing during the pandemic how important walking outside is to people's well-being," says Heinrich. "Right now more than 100,000 kids in this country don't have a park within a ten-minute walk of their house," he says, noting that the LWCF can remedy that. "The rebuilding can be as equitable as we want it to be."

The president's support for the bill is dubious given his support for public lands in the past. His 2021 proposed bill slashed the Park Service budget by $587 million and allocated just $15 million to to the LWCF, a mere 1.6% of its allotment.

It's believed that GOP support from the bill helps two vulnerable Republican Senators, Cory Gardner from Colorado and Steve Danes of Montana.

Gardner celebrated the vote by calling the bill "the single greatest conservation achievement in generations" that's also a "lifeline to mountain towns and recreation communities hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic."

The bill is expected to be taken up by the House in July.

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