U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, last week applauded the Senate passage of his Great American Outdoors Act. The landmark conservation package passed the Senate recently by a vote of 73-25. The legislation would provide full and permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and finally address the approximately $20 billion deferred maintenance backlog in the United States' public lands.

"I'm proud to have worked closely with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to pass this historic conservation bill," Manchin said in a press release. "Full and permanent funding for the LWCF is critical so our land management agencies can continue their legacy of conservation and growing opportunities for outdoor recreation. Addressing the daunting deferred maintenance needs in our national parks is long overdue and will ensure all of our public land management agencies can operate fully to maintain and protect the public lands we all cherish.

"In the Mountain State, we have a rich history and at the center of it is our love and appreciation for the outdoor playground we have been blessed with. The Great American Outdoors Act will guarantee the wild and wonderful corners of West Virginia are protected for generations to come. I've seen firsthand the jobs that the outdoor recreation economy has brought to all areas of West Virginia. At a time of historic unemployment, there is simply no better time than now to pass this much needed legislation. This is a historic achievement for conservation and a testament to the strong, bipartisan work that is still possible when we put politics aside to do what is best for our country."

Manchin has been a long-time advocate of the LWCF and in February 2019, led the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management and Recreation Act through the Senate, which permanently authorized LWCF. Since 1965, about $19 billion of LWCF funds have been appropriated, leaving about $22 billion of the revenues that have accrued in the fund unappropriated. Further, the program has only been fully funded twice in its history. The Great American Outdoors Act would provide the full $900 million in the fund every year going forward. Manchin was joined by every member of the Democratic caucus in supporting the legislation.

Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) also expressed her pleasure in the bill's passage.

“Preserving our public lands for future generations is critical for both the economy and environment,” Capito said.

“Our outdoor recreation industry supports thousands of jobs and brings in billions to our state’s economy. This legislation will support that industry while protecting and maintaining federal, state, and private lands. It also includes provisions I have long championed to address the millions of dollars in deferred maintenance on National Park Service and Forest Service lands in our state. West Virginia is rich with natural resources and beauty, and by prioritizing these conservation efforts, we may finally get a handle on the backlog of federal land projects. The bipartisan Great American Outdoors Act is a win across the board and helps keep West Virginia wild and wonderful for years to come.”

The Great American Outdoors Act also provides significant funding to address the deferred maintenance needs on federal lands. The legislation would provide $9.5 billion over five years for the NPS, USFS, BLM, USFWS and Bureau of Indian Education maintenance backlog. The current maintenance backlog is over $20 billion.

The bill will also serve as a much-needed stimulus to combat the economic crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Investing in deferred maintenance projects would create more than 110,000 infrastructure related jobs. Also, a new analysis from Boston University found that at full funding of $900 million, the LWCF could support an additional approximately 15,000 to 28,000 jobs each year.

"From Canaan Valley to Monongahela National Forest to New River Gorge, West Virginia's beautiful landscapes are integral to our identity, our economy and our well-being. Amidst all of the challenges we face, the Great American Outdoors Act is a once-in-a-generation investment in conservation, one West Virginia and the rest of the country needs right now," said Beth Wheatley, director of external affairs and strategic initiatives for The Nature Conservancy in West Virginia.

"By fully funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund and investing in the care of our national parks and public lands, this act will create jobs, rebuild local economies and increase public access for hiking, mountain biking, paddling, fishing and family picnics. Senator Manchin is a dedicated champion for West Virginia and its outdoors, and we know today's vote would not have happened without him. We thank him for guiding the Great American Outdoors Act to passage and urge the House of Representatives to quickly follow suit."

"Today's vote represents a remarkable victory for our outdoor recreation economy, for our public lands and waters, and for all who love the great outdoors. West Virginia needs this right now; our nation needs it. It shows that in uncertain and turbulent times, the value we place on our outdoor spaces have a way of bringing us together to look to the future. We appreciate Senator Manchin's leadership and tireless work to garner bipartisan support for the Great American Outdoors Act," said Angie Rosser, executive director for the West Virginia Rivers Coalition.

“The passage of the Great American Outdoors Act is a truly historic conservation victory that will ensure that America’s public lands and treasured landscapes endure for future generations. It will also accelerate our economic recovery from the COVID-19 crisis by creating hundreds of thousands of good jobs, while expanding outdoor recreational opportunities for every community in the country,” said Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation.

“We are grateful for the bipartisan leadership of Senators Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Cory Gardner (R-Colo), Steve Daines (R-MT), and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) to pass this legislation. We urge the House to act swiftly to pass the bill and send it to the President’s desk.”

“Senate passage of the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) is a remarkable achievement in advancing historic bipartisan legislation for our national parks. The National Park Foundation applauds Ranking Member Manchin for his longstanding support of West Virginia’s special places and his leadership for our parks as Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources. GAOA will ensure that national parks receive the funding required to address deferred maintenance needs, that parks remain accessible to all Americans, and continue to serve as economic engines for local communities in West Virginia and across the country,” said Will Shafroth, president and CEO of the National Park Foundation.

“The National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) applauds the Senate for passing the Great American Outdoors Act. The Land and Water Conservation Fund is a program that is incredibly important for communities across America. This marks a huge win for our more than 60,000 members and advocates, who work tirelessly to serve the public with parks and trails in urban and rural communities throughout the country," said Kristine Stratton, president and CEO of National Recreation and Park Association.

“The Great American Outdoors Act enjoys strong bipartisan support for providing critical resources to local communities for conservation, parks and recreation. Now, we urge the House to pass the Great American Outdoors Act and ensure that LWCF becomes fully funded and therefore can effectively serve communities through parks, outdoor recreation, conservation, and health and wellness. It’s time for the House to finish the job.”

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