Senator Roy Blunt says it’s time the Senate passes the Great American Outdoors act.
He says the bill moves the parks industry into the 21st century and finishes a number of much needed infrastructure repairs that have been in limbo for nearly 50 years.
Blunt speaking on the senate floor.
He says the legislation will also improve the visitor experience within the National Park Service and will bolster Missouri’s outdoor recreation industry.
“Mr. President, this week we’re considering the bipartisan Great American Outdoors Act. I think it’s fair to say that this is one of the most important packages of conservation legislation we’ve seen in a long time. It might be fair to say that it’s the most important piece of legislation since President Theodore Roosevelt dramatically made additions to the National Park System just a little more than 100 years ago. The bill essentially combines two important provisions, the Restore Our Parks Act and the Land and Water Conservation Full Funding Act. I’m a cosponsor of both of those. We have been trying to do the things that those two bills both do for a long time, and here we are.
“You know, during World War II, Mr. President, within just a few days of D-Day, President Eisenhower, at that time General Eisenhower, had a view that sometimes if a problem is too big to solve or seems to be too hard to solve, you solve it by making it bigger. Interestingly, what we’ve done here with two things that we’ve been trying to do for a long time, to have more full access to the reason the Land and Water Conservation Act was created and to do a better job maintaining our parks. That’s all been combined into the Great American Outdoors Act.
“The first thing this act does is frankly make a significant investment for the deferred maintenance that we have on all kinds of federal land. It’s one of our challenges as a government generally, it’s been specifically one of our challenges as it relates to the National Park System, to the Forest Service, to the Fish and Wildlife Service, to the Bureau of Land Management. Every one of those has deferred maintenance issues that have been there for a long time. In fact, some of them have been there for decades.
“I mentioned earlier that the park system, as we now know it, is a little more than a hundred years old. Some of these maintenance issues are decades old, maybe 50 years old, maybe half of the life of the entire park service we’ve had these issues on a list of something needs to be done. In Yellowstone of the High Bridge, that thousands of cars go over every summer, that bridge needs to be repaired. Of the water maintenance systems in our parks where particularly they have overnight accommodations and other things, many of those systems are almost as old as the park itself. Of buildings we have on all those locations where the access is no longer appropriate, and hasn’t been for a long time. Sometimes that meant you just closed the visitor center, you closed that part of the park that people previously had a way to get in, and see a display, look at an exhibit, but because of disability issues, it should have been fixed long ago, they haven’t been.
“I’ve been saying certainly for several years now that the second century of the park system needs to be different than the first century of the park system. More private-public relationships, we saw a great example of that at the renewal of the Arch and the museum and the area in St. Louis that just had a significant effort made, almost all by either local or private funds, very few federal dollars there.
“But if you’re going to have a public-private partnership, the public needs to do its part. We’re talking today about how the public would do its part of maintaining the parks, expanding the parks and building new facility, of repairing the facility, of changing access to a facility. But a lot of this deferred maintenance will not even be all that obvious. It’s just something that has to be done, and because it’s not all that obvious, the bridge hasn’t collapsed yet, the water system still appears to be producing water that people can use, so let’s worry about that at some future time. Well, the future time, Mr. President, is here.
“This act will work to help improve the visitor experience at the park service. Certainly at the units in my state, and, Mr. President, your state. I’ve been to a number of the facilities in Georgia that will be impacted by this. In Missouri, the westward expansion that’s celebrated at the Arch, where we just made a significant investment in that facility. The Truman Home in Independence would be a National Park Service facility. The first park in America dedicated to an African American, a national park, the George Washington Carver Park at Diamond would be a place that would potentially benefit from this.
“The new park that we’ve established in Ste. Genevieve, Missouri, that has more of the original French architecture left, vertical log architecture and big porches that would have looked like a farmhouse in Normandy with a Caribbean porch put on it. Numbers of those are going to create one of the best walking historic parks in America. That park would benefit. So the Federal Park System benefits but also this legislation includes permanent annual funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
“Now when you think of the title of the fund, why would you have to do permanent funding to be sure that the Land and Water Conservation Fund got spent on land and water? It doesn’t seem to be a genius move to do what we’re doing here. What we’re doing here with this fund is taking about $900 million a year that has been going in many cases for other purposes and say ‘no, we collect the fund for this purpose, let’s use it for this purpose.’ It’s not like we’ve ran out of things to do with the money and so we’ve decided let’s put it somewhere else. But this does what the fund is supposed to do with the fund.
“In our state, again, in Missouri, over the past 50 years, we’ve spent about $150 million out of that fund. The fund has been used to protect historically significant sites like the Mark Twain National Forest or the Ozarks National Scenic River or the Big Muddy National Fish and Wildlife Refuge have all been beneficiaries of that fund to some extent. The Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield has been a beneficiary of that fund. But the fund was created for the purpose that this legislation will ensure it largely serves.
“We know that we have to build important relationships between local communities, between the park service, between the American public to ensure that these sites are managed in the right way, that they’re preserved for the future. And they’re safe to use for the millions of Americans that are going to use them this summer and next summer and the summer after that, and this winter and next winter and the winter after that.
“In addition to the preservation efforts to the conservation efforts, the bill will help, frankly, bolster Missouri’s outdoor recreation industry. And it’s significant. The Outdoor Recreation Industry Association says that we generate about almost $15 billion in our state in consumer spending, about 133,000 jobs are created in Missouri because of outdoor recreation. About five million American jobs are created, and around $800 billion of economic activity created because of the ability to use these and other outdoor resources.
“Mr. President, this is obviously not a normal year. So anything we can do to encourage people to use these facilities in a better way is important. Anything we can do as we look to the future to maintain them and hand them over. We have the chance here, Mr. President, on all of these areas, whether it’s bureau of public lands or the national forest or the national parks. We have a chance to hand them to the next generation in better shape than we got them. We have a chance to look at projects that have been on the ‘we need to do this’ list for 40 and 50 years, and do what is needed to be done for 40 or 50 years.
“I’m proud to be an original cosponsor of this bill, proud of the leadership, particularly of Senator Gardner and Senator Daines on our side, on this effort, and the vast bipartisan support that this bill will have. I look forward to voting for it. I urge my colleagues to vote for it, and even more importantly, I look forward to seeing this bill have the impact that it absolutely will have, and has to have, on the important resources that we need to make the right kind of investment in.”