Tester, Daines help secure permanent financing for Land and Water Conservation Fund

WASHINGTON D.C. - The bipartisan bill Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA), was signed into law Tuesday.

According to a release from Sen. Jon Tester, the GAOA bings critical funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund with $900 million annually. Tester's release also states GAOA will distribute a total of $9.5 billion confronting maintenance backlogs on public lands nationwide. 

Sen. Tester said the following statement in his release:

“This is a big deal for the Treasure State’s greatest treasure – our public lands,” Tester said. “We rely on our public lands, and protecting them means protecting not only the outdoor spaces where folks hike, hunt, fish, and camp, but also the 70,000 jobs and $7.1 billion generated each year by Montana’s outdoor recreation economy. Wins like this don’t come easy, and it’s thanks to the tireless work of Montanans from all walks of life that this historic day is here, and that we can count on these critical conservation tools to sustain our outdoor way of life for generations to come.”

Sen. Steve Daines released the following statement in his release:

“This is a great day for Montana, this is a great day for America and this is a great day for conservation and for all of us who love the great outdoors,” Daines said. “The Great American Outdoors Act is a big win for conservation, it's a big win for jobs, it's a big win for our Montana way of life, it's a big win for bipartisanship. It's only fitting it took public lands to bring a divided government together. Mr. President, Montana thanks you. America thanks you. I thank you for signing the most important piece of conservation legislation in over 50 years for our great country.”

Rep. Greg Gianforte said the following statement in his release:

“The Great American Outdoors Act, which I proudly supported, provides dedicated, lasting resources to increase public access to our public lands, conserving them for generations to come,” Gianforte said. “I thank Senator Daines for his leadership in getting this historic bill across the finish line, and I thank President Trump for his support of our public lands and for signing this critical bill into law.”

The Office of the Press Secretary released the following remarks from senior  administration officials on the GAOA bill signing:

     MR. FIELDS:  "And good morning, everyone.  Thank you for joining the background press call on the signing of the Great American Outdoors Act.  Today, this briefing will be conducted by Secretary David Bernhardt with the U.S. Department of Interior, as well as Jeff Freeland, the Special Assistant to the President for the Office of Legislative Affairs, and Sean Riley, also Assistant to the President, Office of Legislative Affairs. 

     Both opening remarks and question-and-answer portions to follow will be on record for the Secretary and on background to a “senior administration official” for the White House officials in the room.  All information is embargoed until the beginning of the scheduled signing at 10:30.  But if you can hold off until the actual beginning of the event, would be helpful for the embargo.

     And with that, I'm happy to introduce Secretary David Bernhardt. 

     SECRETARY BERNHARDT:  Good morning.  This is David Bernhardt.  Obviously, this morning, the President will sign into law the Great American Outdoors Act.  That legislation contains two very significant and innovative proposals.  The first is the establishment of the National Parks and Public Lands Legacy Fund, which is a fund that will be up to $1.9 billion per year over five years.  That will be utilized to address the United States’ significant maintenance backlog at national parks, wildlife refuges, public lands, and even Indian schools.  It's a very significant commitment to our deferred maintenance challenge, and it is something that the administration has highlighted for a while. 

     The First Lady, the Vice President, the Second Lady, and the President's advisor, Ivanka Trump, as well as the Department of the Interior have highlighted these issues and worked consistently to steer this legislation. 

     In addition to that, this legislation contains permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund in the tune of $900 million a year.  This is basically reaffirming and establishing the commitment made in 1964 with the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a commitment that has virtually never been fully funded. 

     And so this fund will provide -- 40 percent of the money will go to state and local governments for land conservation and recreational facilities, and other similar things.  The 60 percent will stay with the federal government on expanding land acquisitions, expanding recreational facilities.  And it really is a tremendous conservation initiative. 

     As a matter of fact, in just the LWCF portion alone, five Presidents have worked on addressing this issue, and none of them were able to come up with the legislative proposal that would get over the goal line.  And here, President Trump, combining these two proposals, challenged Congress to move forward.  And Congress moved forward with a large bipartisan majority in, really, incredible time. 

     And this is probably -- well, it certainly is the most significant conservation funding legislation that has occurred in my lifetime. 

     With that, I’m happy to take any questions. 

     Q    Hi.  Thanks for doing this.  Secretary Bernhardt, I’m wondering if you can quickly get for us who the main recipients who will be, in terms of parks, and where the biggest problems are.  Like, what -- can you just, sort of, say what the initial goals are to address the infrastructure problems and which parks will be the recipients?  And -- yeah.

     SECRETARY BERNHARDT:  So are our maintenance backlog is immense.  This legislation specifically limits the amount of money that can go into roads and road infrastructure and cap that at 35 percent.  But we have very significant road issues; for example, the GW Parkway. 

     But the reality is that we have 90 days to repair -- report.  And we'll get that report of projects up to Congress within 90 days.  And that is just simply what we'll spend with the National Parks and Public Lands Legacy Fund.  The reality is, this funding of $900 million a year will benefit every single state and, virtually, you know, dozens if not hundreds of individual communities, in addition to funding Indian schools and facilities at wildlife refuges.  So this will have a very big impact in the vast majority of states in the union. 

     Q    Hi.  Thanks for doing this call.  I was just wondering -- I know that in the budget proposal from earlier this year, the administration has proposed significant cuts to the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and I was wondering what, sort of, changed the administration's mind or the President's mind on this issue.

     SECRETARY BERNHARDT:  Well, I've -- I have discussed that issue in the past -- as a matter of fact, in front of the Appropriations Committee -- and I can only give you my personal opinion on that.  But my personal opinion is that a lot of factors go into making a budget for the administration, and there is acknowledgement that, you know, that's a process that people proposed and other people disposed of proposals. 

     I think, here, the President made a bold realization that he could combine the National Parks and Public Lands Funding bill with the Land and Water Conservation bill and do something that would be completely unprecedented and historic and a game changer for conservation.  And he seized the moment, challenged Congress, and Congress moved forward significantly.  And I do not believe for a minute either of these proposals would have passed without his strong and bold action. 

     MR. FIELDS:  Thank you so much, Operator.  And just a reminder to everyone, that was on record for the Secretary.  And if you have any further questions, please feel free to reach out to the White House Press Office.  Thank you, everyone, for their time."