Great American Outdoors Act Moves to the House
On July 22nd, in a 310-107 bipartisan vote, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA). An identical bill passed the Senate in June with a resounding 73-25 majority. The GAOA was signed by President Trump on August 4th and became public law on August 9th. Many believe this is the most important conservation legislation passed in the last 50 years! And it has been a priority for conservationists for decades.
The GAOA will dedicate $6.65 billion over five years to addressing the $11.9 billion backlog of maintenance projects across more than 400 national parks, monuments, recreation areas and historic sites. An additional $2.9 billion will be used for repairs on lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the Bureau of Indian Education.
The GAOA will also finally fund the important Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) at the $900 million annual rate authorized in 1964 (when President Johnson signed the bill into law). The LWCF, funded from royalty payments from offshore oil and gas drilling in federal waters, was created to both foster recreation and acquire more open space annually to supplement the nation’s public lands. It also supplies grants to states to protect historic sites, steward natural areas, preserve rare species and create recreational opportunities (like ballfields, picnic areas and swimming pools). LWCF money has been used in virtually every county in the country! The Land Alliance applauds every member of
Congress who voted in favor of enacting the GAOA. At a time when Americans are finding peace in nature, the GAOA will go a long way to ensuring that our natural resources are protected and access to the outdoors is available for all.
This great outcome was the result of many years of committed efforts from conservation advocates like the Land Alliance. We are grateful to our members who made the calls and wrote the emails to help achieve this legislative victory. We have definitely been a part of ensuring that our public lands will be there for generations to come.
Unfortunately, we are not quite there yet on seeing any results. As of this writing, land acquisition lists due to Congress on November 2nd are held up in the political morass.
Conservation Ballot Measures Across the Country The importance of nature and the environment was evident this election as voters across the country approved more than two dozen conservation ballot measures resulting in nearly $3.7 billion in new funding for land conservation, parks, climate resiliency and habitat.
Here are some of the most notable measures that were passed:
The $487.5 million bond in Prop A for San Francisco parks and recreation will direct $239 million to parks and open space.
Climate sales tax in Denver – Measure 2 will introduce a “climate sales tax,” a quarter-cent sales tax increase that is expected to generate $720 million for a variety of climate-related programs. The measure also mandates that funding “should maximize investments in communities of color, under resourced communities and communities most vulnerable to climate change”.
Residents in the Colorado River Water Conservation District chose to increase their property taxes to protect streams and improve water use. This measure could generate $100 million over 20 years.
Three Florida counties will raise property taxes to pay for environmental programs.
• Residents in Volusia County voted to increase property taxes to renew the Volusia Forever land conservation program and pay for the Environmental, Cultural, Historic and outdoor Recreation program. The measure is expected to generate $100 million.
• Increased property taxes in Collier County are expected to raise $287 million for the acquisition and management of environmentally sensitive lands.
• In Manatee County, a property tax increase is expected to produce $108 million for the acquisition, improvement and management of land to protect water quality, preserve wildlife habitat and provide parks.
Marijuana initiatives passed in five states. Initiative I-190 in Montana included a provision to allocate 50% of tax proceeds from recreational marijuana sales to land conservation. The measure is expected to generate $360 million over 20 years and is an unprecedented move for a major U.S. city.
NEW YORK STATE
The 2020 Saving Mother Nature Bond Act was postponed at the last minute due to COVID-19.
Hopefully we will have another chance next year.
There was one local ballot measure in the State of New York. The town of New Paltz has established a Community Preservation Fund. Modelled after a successful program that has existed in the five East End towns of Long Island for decades, the New Paltz Water Quality, Working Farms, Wildlife Habitat and Natural Areas Preservation Fund creates a small real estate transfer fee on sales that exceed the median home value in the town, and directs funding generated to an account that will help the town protect affordable housing while leveraging private, state and federal dollars to conserve local forests, family farms and clean water. The measure is expected to generate more than $3.5 million
over the next 20 years. More than 70% of town voters supported this measure, which was approved as part of the November election.
Environmental bond measures tend to do extremely well in years of big voter turnout as was experienced this year.