June 05, 2020

S.3422 – Great American Outdoors Act

NOTEWORTHY

Background: The National Park Service has a nearly $12 billion deferred maintenance backlog, including needed repair and maintenance on roads, trails, buildings, utility systems, etc. The maintenance backlog at the U.S. Forest Service is $5.2 billion; $1.3 billion at the Fish and Wildlife Service; $960 million at the Bureau of Land Management; and $634 million at the Bureau of Indian Education. Repair and maintenance at these public lands sites throughout the country is normally funded through annual appropriations. However, the amount appropriated annually is significantly less than the amount needed to address the maintenance backlog. Last year, the National Park Service received $3.37 billion in total funding which includes all operations and maintenance needs at the 419 park sites.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund provides funding for federal agencies to conserve land for outdoor recreation, assists states with matching grants for acquiring recreational lands and waters, and funds other nature-focused federal grants to states and localities. The LWCF primarily accrues funds from federal revenues  from leasing federal offshore waters for oil and gas exploration, but Congress has historically not appropriated the full amount of funds nominally accruing to the LWCF. More than $22 billion that could have gone to the LWCF was diverted for other purposes. Last year, Congress passed a permanent reauthorization of the LWCF but has not provided for dedicated funding.

Floor Situation: Senators Cory Gardner, Steve Daines, Rob Portman, and Lamar Alexander introduced S.3422, which has 58 cosponsors. It has been placed on the Senate Legislative Calendar under the auspices of Rule XIV. The basis of the Great American Outdoors Act is formed by the Restore Our Park Act, S. 500, and the Land and Water Conservation Fund Permanent Funding Act, S. 1081. Both of these bills were approved by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on November 19, 2019 by votes of 15-5 and 13-7, respectively.

Executive Summary: The Great American Outdoors Act would create the National Park and Public Lands Legacy Restoration Fund to address the deferred maintenance needs for various federal land management agencies, the outdoors, and Native American education. It would provide permanent mandatory funding for the LWCF at its authorized level of $900 million annually.

NOTABLE BILL PROVISIONS

Section 2 – National Parks and Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund

Creates the National Parks and Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund to address deferred maintenance needs. Seventy percent of the funds will address deferred maintenance needs at the National Park Service, 15% at the U.S. Forestry Service, 5% at the Fish and Wildlife Service, 5% at the Bureau of Land Management, and 5% at Bureau of Indian Education schools.

For fiscal years 2021-25, the fund will receive 50% of unobligated onshore and offshore energy revenues up to $1.9 billion annually as mandatory funding.

Prohibits the fund from being used for land acquisition; supplanting discretionary funding for annual operations, maintenance, and construction needs; or bonuses for federal employees.

Requires the president to submit to Congress a list of projects to be funded in that year.

Allows members of the public to donate cash or in-kind donations to reduce the deferred maintenance backlog.

Section 3 – Permanent full funding of the LWCF

Directs that all amounts deposited in the LWCF shall be made available for expenditure – unlike the current disposition of an annual $900 million, which is deposited but need not necessarily be appropriated for expenditures. Requires the president to submit a report to Congress as part of the annual budget submission detailing allocations to the LWCF.

ADMINISTRATION POSITION

The administration has not yet released a statement of administration policy on S.3422, though President Trump has tweeted in support of the bill.

COST

CBO has not yet released a cost estimate of S.3422.