WASHINGTON, DC – A key environmental program that President Trump repeatedly tried to zero out in the budget took an important step forward this week toward becoming permanently authorized and funded.

In an effort allocate more federal funds to outdoor recreation and the preservation of public lands, the U.S. Senate voted 79-18 this week to proceed to the bipartisan Great American Outdoors Act.  The bill, which is supported by U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), provides $900 million annually for outdoor recreation and includes the Reed-backed Land and Water Conservation Fund Permanent Funding Act (S.1081), guaranteeing full, permanent funding for the Land Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). 

The bill cleared the first procedural hurdle and must still be debated on the floor and voted on, with final passage coming as early as next week.

“This is a positive step for Rhode Island and all Americans who enjoy the great outdoors.  Land and Water Conservation Funds are crucial to Rhode Island and the state can use this money to help upgrade parks, trails, beaches, and wildlife refuges,” said Senator Reed, a member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies and a former Chairman of the panel.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) Act of 1965 was enacted to help preserve, develop, and ensure access to outdoor recreation facilities to strengthen the health of U.S. citizens.  The program is administered by the National Park Service, with the primary source of revenue for the LWCF coming from federal offshore oil and gas lease revenues.  The LWCF was permanently authorized by Congress last year, but that did not come with a guarantee it would funded each year. Congress also allocated forty percent of the funding for state grants. This new legislation guarantees permanent and full funding.

Over the years, Rhode Island has received about $1 million annually from LWCF.  Last year, the state’s share of LWCF funding expanded to $1.7 million, a $700,000 increase over 2018 funding levels, after Senator Reed helped allocate additional funds for the program.

“Rhode Island’s beaches, parks, waters, and open spaces are essential to our economy, community, and public health.  This legislation will have a lasting impact on protecting public spaces, improving Rhode Island’s outdoor recreational facilities, and expanding opportunities for people to get out and enjoy the great outdoors,” said Senator Reed, who noted the legislation also provides funding to help other public lands address their maintenance backlog, such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

At the state level, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) has recently used federal LWCF funding on a variety of projects, such as a new “green” beach pavilion at Lincoln Woods State Park, and upgraded bathroom facilities at Fishermen's State Park and Campground.

Over the last half century, LWCF has invested more than $74.4 million in Rhode Island to protect the state’s coastlines and historic sites, and increase recreation access. 

The Great American Outdoors Act also contains key provisions to provide $9.5 billion in federal funding to address deferred maintenance on America’s public lands and National Parks.  The funds may be used to fix a variety of backlog maintenance needs, such as improving outdoor recreation facilities like campgrounds, docks, restrooms, trails, roads, and more.  Senator Reed says a portion of this funding may be used to address the $900,000 in deferred maintenance at Roger Williams National Memorial and deferred maintenance at Rhode Island’s wildlife refuges.

Rhode Island’s natural and public assets – including 8,200 acres of parkland, 1,000 campsites, 400 miles of hiking and biking trails, 200 fishing spots, 25 parks and nature preserves, and eight saltwater beaches – are magnets, attracting more than nine million Rhode Islanders and tourists a year. They’re also an economic engine for the state that helps generate hundreds of millions of dollars for the economy and supports thousands of jobs across the state.

Click here to learn more about OCEAN STATE OUTDOORS: Rhode Island’s Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan, which DEM released last year.

Identical legislation to the Great American Outdoors Act has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives.  When the measure is approved by both chambers it will be sent to President Trump to be signed into law.