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US House passes Great American Outdoors Act to boost conservation, parks

The bipartisan bill, which passed in the Senate last month, doubles spending on a popular conservation program and devotes nearly $2 billion a year to national parks
Credit: AP
In this file photo, a stream in Acadia National Park on Mt. Desert Island, Maine, captures some of the park's beauty.

WASHINGTON, D.C., USA — The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Great American Outdoors Act on Wednesday in a 310-107 vote. The U.S. Senate passed the bipartisan bill with amendments in June, approving the $2.8 billion plan to maintain and improve national parks and public lands in the States. 

The bill was introduced by Rep. Jared Golden (D-Maine) and 11 other members of Congress in June and co-sponsored by Maine Sen. Susan Collins. It also included legislation from Sen. Angus King. 

“Especially now that we’re in a pandemic, public lands have taken on new importance for many families in Maine,” Golden said in a statement Wednesday. “I was proud to introduce the Great American Outdoors Act with a bipartisan group of House colleagues to invest in our national parks and protect and expand public lands. With this bill’s overwhelming bipartisan passage through the House today, we are a step closer to finally fixing the maintenance backlog at Acadia and so many other national parks.”

The bill would spend about $900 million dollars a year on preserving parks like Acadia National Park in Maine, which according to King, is $65 million dollars behind in much-needed maintenance work. Acadia National Park brings in more than 3 million visitors a year, which is twice the population of Maine.

“It’s probably the most significant conservation bill that’s been passed in the Congress in the last 50 years," King said previously about The Great American Outdoors Act. Following the bill's passage on Wednesday, King said the Act is "monumental" and will "shift the way we think about conservation."

RELATED: Sens. King, Collins played a big role in the Great American Outdoors Act, which passed in the Senate on Wednesday

“The Great American Outdoors Act will help to ensure both current and future generations can enjoy the pristine beauty of our natural resources in Maine and across the county,” Collins said in a statement. “By providing guaranteed funding for LWCF, this legislation builds on our recent accomplishment of permanently reauthorizing our country’s most successful conservation and outdoor recreation program. Its funding has been used to open up key areas for hunting, fishing, and recreational access; support working forests and ranches; protect critical lands in national parks, national wildlife refuges, and national forests; and support state and local projects, from ball parks to recreation trails. It would also allow the National Park Service and other federal agencies to complete much-needed repairs and maintenance.”

On the House floor Wednesday, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said, "In passing this legislation, Congress is ensuring that America lives up to its conservation promises as we finally permanently fund the land and water conservation fund at levels that were promised. [...] Permanently funding the [The Land and Water Conservation Fund] will ensure we preserve our natural heritage in an equitable manner to ensure all communities can benefit."

In response to the bill's passage on Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of the Interior David L. Bernhardt said, “In March, President Trump called on Congress to stop kicking the can down the road, fix the aging infrastructure at our national parks and permanently fund conservation projects through the Land and Water Conservation Fund. He accomplished what previous Presidents have failed to do for decades, despite their lip service commitment to funding public land improvements.”

In March, Trump called on Congress in a Tweet to send him a bill "that fully and permanently funds the LWCF and restores our National Parks."

RELATED: US Senate passes Great American Outdoors Act to boost conservation, parks

Despite this apparent support, Trump had repeatedly tried to slash spending for the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund in his budget proposals.

The legislation will use royalties from offshore oil and gas drilling to provide nearly $2 billion a year to repair facilities and infrastructure in national parks and public lands. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., one of the bill’s chief sponsors, said the bill will also create at least 100,000 jobs.

Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.) spoke in opposition to the bill, asking "what planet" people are on. 

"Quick—there's a global pandemic. Let's spend billions of dollars repairing fences, putting up new signs, fixing toilets at our wildlife refuges, parks, and forests—said no one ever, ever. I've been sitting here listening to this debate over the last several minutes and I have no idea what planet people are on right now."

The National Park Service says in 2019 it welcomed 327 million visitors to its parks across the country, which generated an economic impact of more than $41 billion and supported more than 340,000 jobs. The bill will help bring crucial upgrades and improvements for more than 5,500 miles of paved roads,17,000 miles of trails, and 24,000 buildings.

The bill will now head to the President's desk to be signed into law. 

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RELATED: In time of crises, Great American Outdoors Act gives Senate a chance to unite