By Mary Scott
On Tuesday, Aug. 4, President Trump signed the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) into law. GAOA received bipartisan support and passed the Senate on June 17 with a 73-25 vote, followed by the House approving it 310-107 on July 22. Momentum for the bill comes on the heels of President Trump’s request for Congress to take up the issue after expressing his support in early March.
Proponents of GAOA were pleased to see the attention given to what has been referred to as a historic and once-in-a-lifetime conservation opportunity. The bill tackles maintenance backlogs by establishing the National Parks and Public Land Restoration Fund, which provides $1.9 billion annually from 2021 – 2025. Furthermore, GAOA removes the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) from the annual appropriations fund by permanently funding LWCF at $900 million each year. Eliminating LWCF from the appropriations cycle frees up the funding that may be directed toward other federal programs.
Critics of the legislation have voiced concerns with GAOA because it permanently funded LWCF, which is funded through offshore oil and gas receipts. A report released July 13 from the Congressional Research Service (CRS) reviewing COVID-19’s impact on federal land revenues found the ongoing pandemic has already had a tremendous impact on receipts generated by offshore oil and gas revenue. According to the report, the Office of Natural Resource Revenues (ONRR) has received “offshore oil and gas royalty collections of $100 million, a decline of 84 percent from royalty collections” from May 2020 compared to May 2019.
NACD policy opposes the federal land acquisition earmark included in LWCF. $360 million per year of the LWCF budget is designated for federal land acquisition. In the organization’s FY21 Appropriations request, NACD asked Congress not to fund future LWCF land acquisitions and instead focus on the maintenance backlog for federal lands. Unfortunately, with LWCF being permanently authorized and no longer requiring the annual appropriations process to receive funding, Congress has actually limited its ability to perform critical oversight of the program and future purchases that would add to the federal lands portfolio. Although NACD is pleased that a focus on addressing the maintenance backlog was included, the new fund is only authorized for five years versus the permanent authorization of LWCF.
With expected passage of GAOA, in June, NACD sent a letter to Congress expressing the importance of the Payments In-Lieu of Taxes (PILT) and Securing Rural Schools (SRS) programs funding. Communities with a larger proportion of federal lands versus private lands have reduced property taxes and rely on these programs to perform community services. As future federal lands purchases occur now that LWCF is permanently funded, these programs will become even more crucial for these communities.
NACD will continue to provide updates on activities impacting federal lands as they become available.