06.10.20

Gardner: Great American Outdoors Act Will Benefit Every Part of This Country

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) spoke on the floor of the U.S. Senate today, discussing how the Great American Outdoors Act will benefit every state in the country and provide jobs for communities distressed because of COVID-19. Gardner introduced this bipartisan, landmark conservation legislation to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and address the approximately $20 billion maintenance backlog on federal lands with U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV).

6.10.20 Floor Speech

NOTE: Click here or the image above to download Senator Gardner’s remarks. 

“This bill will create over 100,000 jobs, restoring our National Parks, repairing trails and forest systems. It does so at a time when we have high unemployment rates in those communities surrounded by public lands because of the shutdown of the coronavirus,” said Senator Gardner. “This is an economic and jobs package as much as it is a conservation package. For every $1 million that we spend on the Land and Water Conservation Fund, it supports between 16 and 30 jobs. It's our chance to not only protect our environment, to catch up on deferred maintenance, but to grow an economy when our economy needs the growth. And after spending the last several months in the great indoors, it’s time to get out into the great outdoors and this bill accomplishes both of those goals.”

Remarks as delivered: 

Thank you, Mr. President.

The Senate is considering landmark legislation. I call it that because indeed it is landmark legislation, but also it is about the great landmarks of our nation. 

We have a chance to lead in this country this week with a historic package of bills, the Great American Outdoors Act, that combines the Land and Water Conservation Fund, our crown jewel of conservation programs, with the Restore Our Parks Act, legislation that would help make a dent, help to catch up our deferred maintenance backlog throughout our National Park Systems.

More than just our National Parks, though. It addresses the needs of our National Forests, our Forest Systems, our Bureau of Land Management lands, Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as the Bureau of Indian Education. 

This legislation affects all four corners of Colorado, but it also affects every part of this country. In fact, here is a chart, a map that shows the states that get support from the Great American Outdoors Act. Those states are in green and the states that don't get support from the Great American Outdoors Act are highlighted in orange. Now it may be a little hard to see, but there are no orange states. Every state in the Union receives support through the Great American Outdoors Act. 

From sea to shining sea, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the Restore Our Parks Act, the Great American Outdoors Act will provide billions of dollars in opportunity for recreation, hiking, fishing, camping, conservation, access to lands that the public already held but didn't have a way to get to until the Land and Water Conservation Fund. 

Ninety-nine percent of Land and Water Conservation Funds go to purchasing access to lands the American people already hold or are in holdings in a National Park. In fact, one of the most recent purchases the Land and Water Conservation Fund performed in Colorado was land within Rocky Mountain National Park, one of the last remaining inholdings of private land within the National Park. Helping to complete the great Rocky Mountain National Park, the third-most visited National Park in the country.

This legislation gives this Congress a chance to lead on a bill that affects everyone from Maine to California, from Texas to Alaska, from Maine to Hawaii, from Hawaii to Utah, Utah to Alaska, and beyond. 

I know there are some who believe this is a federal land grab. That's simply not true. As I mentioned, 99 percent of the dollars in the Land and Water Conservation Fund goes to purchasing inholdings. 

There are some who believe this is mandatory spending. If you remember how this bill was passed in 1965, the Land and Water Conservation Fund was authorized at $900 million a year. While it was authorized to take certain dollars from revenues over time that became $900 million year, it’s only been reaching that level twice in the time of the history of the program. Throughout the past 55 years though, dollars have been diverted away from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. 

What this legislation does through its permanent funding is make sure that the dollars that we have authorized beginning in 1965, reaffirmed by this Congress in the permanent authorization in the John Dingell Act by a vote of 92-8, makes sure that that doesn't get diverted, makes sure that it stops being siphoned off, and instead goes to what it was intended to go to in the Land and Water Conservation Fund beginning in 1965. 

So we have a chance to make sure that we stop that diversion. And, remember, this is not new, this is money that's paid for. This is paid for, not by the taxpayers, this is paid for by oil and gas revenues. These dollars are generated from the revenues that come from offshore. Those energy revenues, boat fuel exercise tax, a couple of other things, but it's not coming out of the taxpayers. It's an opportunity to protect our land, our most precious spaces, to catch up on our deferred maintenance at National Parks, and to make sure that we are doing that across the country without costing the taxpayers money.

This land is purchased. There's no federal land grab, there's no eminent domain. They don't use eminent domain for this. There's no premium that the federal government gets to buy land with to crowd out other people. There's a formula that's used. It doesn't allow for premiums. And so this indeed is another stick in the bundle of property rights for landowners.

We also know the impact that this bill has right now on our economy. You know, when we started working on this legislation, we were talking about its economic impact and what it would mean, but we were talking about it in terms of the overall outdoor recreation economy, which in Colorado is $28 billion and growing, the 5.2 million Americans who are employed in the outdoor recreation economy, and then COVID hit. And we saw what happened in Western Colorado as ski industries, ski slopes shut down two months early, as hotels were emptied, as restaurants were emptied. 

This bill will create over 100,000 jobs, restoring our National Parks, repairing trails and forest systems. It does so at a time when we have high unemployment rates in those communities surrounded by public lands because of the shutdown of the coronavirus. 

This is an economic and jobs package as much as it is a conservation package. For every $1 million that we spend on the Land and Water Conservation Fund, it supports between 16 and 30 jobs. 

It's our chance to not only protect our environment, to catch up on deferred maintenance, but to grow an economy when our economy needs the growth. And after spending the last several months in the great indoors, it’s time to get out into the great outdoors and this bill accomplishes both of those goals.

Now, it's historic in another way, too. Because we’ve received support from over 850 groups across the country representing significant, significant spectrums of purposes and ideologies, from sportsmen to the Nature Conservancy to all of the groups that have really touted this effort. Over 850 groups strongly supporting this legislation, and I would ask unanimous consent that the letter from these 850-plus organizations be inserted into the record.

But there's another historic feature, and I’m particularly grateful to previous Secretaries of the Interior who have signed a letter to Congress urging the passage of the Great American Outdoors Act. This letter includes two Secretaries of Interior from Colorado, Senator Ken Salazar, who was Secretary of Interior under Barack Obama from 2009 to 2013, and Secretary Gayle Norton, who was Secretary of Interior under President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2006. 

This was a letter they sent to us on June 3, 2020. It is a historic letter with six previous Secretaries of Interior, including Secretary Zinke, Secretary Jewell, Salazar, and Norton, Secretary Kempthorne, and Secretary Babbitt under President Clinton. And I would ask unanimous consent that this letter from the Secretaries of the Interior be included in the record.

We have a chance lead. We have a chance to show the American people that Congress can work. We have a chance to show the American people that indeed Republicans and Democrats can come together for the good of their country, to provide great things for future generations. 

And despite the bickering that you see on the nightly talk shows, this Congress can come together, pass a Great American Outdoors Act that can restore faith in our government to do what people hope we will do, and that's to come together, to work together, to inspire each other with those dreams of previous generations who protected our lands and had the idea and the forethought to create National Parks, to create National Forests, to say that there are places in our great land that can and should be enjoyed for generations to come. 

It's about ballparks and swimming pools, because not all these dollars go to purchase lands. This is a photo of a ballpark in Pueblo, Colorado, Runyon Park, that was funded through the Land and Water Conservation Fund. We have swimming pools across Utah and Alaska funded by it as well.

The states determine a great portion of it. I have example after example. Here's Paradise Sports Park in Paradise Town, Utah. Sounds like a great place. 2015 - $80,000 for the Paradise Sports Park. Alaska, the Kenai Peninsula, the Kenai Soccer Park. City of Kenai - $321,000 from the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Let's lead. Let's inspire. Let's show the American people that indeed from sea to shining sea, across this America the beautiful, the Great American Outdoor Act can stand as testament to a Congress that realizes generations ahead of us need us to work for them as well.

And I’ll end this with another quote from the father of Rocky Mountain National Park who said, “Within our National Parks is room, glorious room, room in which to find ourselves, in which to think and hope, to dream and plan, to rest and resolve.”

Mr. President, I hope my colleagues will join me in supporting the motion, the vote that we're about to take. I would encourage my colleagues to vote yes, and I yield the floor.

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Cory Gardner is a member of the U.S. Senate serving Colorado. He sits on the Energy & Natural Resources Committee, the Foreign Relations Committee, the Commerce, Science, & Transportation Committee, and is the Chairman of the Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy.