At the chance of sacrificing my objectivity on this topic for one column, I’m going to be very frank with you about the Great American Outdoors Act. Why? Because this issue offers no middle ground to stand on, nor should it.
This is by far the most important piece of legislation to come through Congress in a very long time. This is easily on the level of President Franklin Roosevelt’s ‘New Deal’ and President Theodore Roosevelt building the foundation of the National Park System. Putting the historic implications aside for a moment – I will come back to that in a second – because I want to stress how important this is.
Did you ever imagine our Congress could come together so fast and strongly support something in a time like now? Put aside all of our problems right now and just think about the scope of this. It took less than one day for the Senate to almost reach 60 cosigners on this bill. Mostly Democrats, sure, but also a good handful of Republicans. Within three days, that number went up. Last week, they voted 80-17 to invoke cloture so it would get through to a vote with no amendments – insane in its own right – and then it just passed Wednesday 73-25. Now it’s on its way to the House of Representatives where it has just as much bipartisan support and is likely to pass. When this is called a win, it’s no small label. Our Congress can’t even get legislation passed during a pandemic to help the everyday man and woman, but they passed this without debate. Insane.
Insane, but a win. And it’s something I’ll never complain about.
And this isn’t a small bill! Annually, it will provide full, mandatory funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund at $900 million and $9.5 billion over five years for deferred maintenance on federal lands. Right now, that federal backlog’s price tag is just under $12 billion and in West Virginia, we have a $61.8 million backlog. And before you get mad that your tax money is going to this, it isn’t – the money comes from offshore drilling and gas operations. Further, the LWCF alone has only been fully funded twice since it was created in 1965, which means $22 billion, as Sen. Joe Manchin likes to say, “has gone in the dark black hole of the Treasury.”
Back to the historic implications. Like him or not, Manchin deserves our thanks. He deserves thanks from every citizen of the country. So do Senators Cory Gardner of Colorado and Steve Daines of Montana. So does every person who voted in favor of this, and those who will get this through to President Trump’s desk. And if he follows through and does sign this, Trump deserves thanks for this, too. Has the Trump Administration and the heads of the Department of the Interior and Environmental Protection Agency been hurting our public lands with moronic action over the last four years? Yes, but it has also given its blessing for this bill and signed into action the permanent reauthorization of the LWCF last year. Is this a political move to get Republicans re-elected in November? Oh, for sure, but who cares?
We need this passed, and I’m willing to put aside any personal opinions to ask our representatives to bench their partisanship and pass this as is. We can, for this one bill, work together. And once it’s passed, we can fight the injustices in the name of irresponsible industry once more.
This bill is pristine. It needs to stay that way. I don’t care if you’re on the right or left of the aisle, these lands belong to all of us. That’s why you need to get on the phone and call your representatives. You can find their numbers below or with a simple Google search if you choose to not just copy and paste them out of this column. While you’re at it, thank Manchin and Sen. Shelly Moore Capito.
West Virginians, if you live in District 1, call David McKinley at (202) 225-4172; if you live in District 2, call Alex Mooney at (202) 225-2711; and if you live in District 3, call Carol Miller at (202) 225-3452.
If any of these three do not vote for this, my opinion is that they don’t deserve to represent “Almost Heaven.” There is absolutely nothing wrong with this bill, and for a state that has an economy that’s moving more toward outdoor recreation, we desperately need this bill to pass. If you’re not from West Virginia and are reading this, call your representative. You can find the roster with their number and other information at https://www.house.gov/representatives#state-washington.
Let’s make history and protect our public lands for our generations and those who are yet to be born.