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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Bi-Partisan Victory for Great American Outdoors Act

Air Date: Week of

President Trump signed The Great American Outdoors Act in the East Room of the White House. (Photo: Tia Dufour, Flickr, Public Domain)

The Great American Outdoors Act addresses years of backlogged expenses for buildings and roads in the National Park system and ensures nearly a billion dollars in yearly funding for conservation of public spaces. Living on Earth’s Paloma Beltran reports on the remarks made by leading Democrats and Republicans at their separate events marking the bill’s passage by a veto-proof majority and signing by the President. 


CURWOOD: From PRX and the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios at the University of Massachusetts Boston, this is Living on Earth, I’m Steve Curwood.

On the very last day he could sign the Great American Outdoors Act before it would automatically become law without his signature, on August 4th President Trump put his pen to one of the biggest bi-partisan legislative victories in these times. But the story begins back in April of 2019 when the late civil rights leader and Georgia Democratic Congressman John Lewis originally introduced this multi-billion-dollar measure. It addresses years of backlogged expenses for buildings and roads in the National Park system. It also guarantees that every year close to a billion dollars will be available for conservation and maintenance of public spaces at the federal, state and local level. This June the senate finally agreed, with 73 senators voting in favor. When 310 members of the House voted to accept some Senate amendments on July 22nd, the measure passed with a veto-proof majority. Living on Earth’s Paloma Beltran has more.

BELTRAN: Republican senator Cory Gardner of Colorado set the tone in the East room of the White House during the presidential signing ceremony for the Great American Outdoors Act :

GARDNER: It was 127 years ago, Mr. President in 1893, the Katherine Lee Bates a climbed atop Pikes Peak, and she looked across the plains and mountains of Colorado and wrote the words to America the Beautiful 127 years later, we passed the Great American outdoors Act which will truly protect and provide opportunities for all Americans to enjoy those wonders of this country that Katherine Lee Bates wrote about then.

A video of President Trump went viral after he mispronounced the name of one of the most famous National Parks in the United States, Yosemite National Park, pictured here. (Photo: Edward Stojakovic, Flickr, CC BY 2.0)

This is a remarkable opportunity to celebrate in the midst of acrimony in the midst of partisanship. In the midst of times when the American people probably look out and wonder if they can get anything done. Congress came together to pass the most significant bill, the great American outdoors act in over 50 years with the largest infusion of funding this country has ever seen.

BELTRAN: Despite the bipartisan coalition that got the Great American Outdoors Act through Congress, no Democrats were on the list of speakers invited by President Trump.

TRUMP: The legislation I'm signing today builds on my administration's unwavering commitment to conserving and the grander and the splendor of God's creation. This is truly God's creation.

BELTRAN: But the president struggled with some of the names of the parks.

TRUMP: We want every American child to have access to pristine outdoor spaces. When young Americans experience the breathtaking beauty of the Grand Canyon, when their eyes widen in amazement as Old Faithful bursts into the sky, when they gaze upon Yose-mites, Yosemenites, towering sequoias, their love of country grows stronger. And they know that every American has truly a duty to preserve this wondrous inheritance. And that's what they're doing and that's what we're doing. We're preserving an incredible inheritance.

BELTRAN: Vice President Pence spoke of his familiarity with the national parks under Interior Secretary David Bernhardt.

South Carolina Representative Joe Cunningham (D-SC) introduced The Great American Outdoors Act into the House. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

PENCE: Mrs. Pence and I have spent a lot of time loading our kids in the minivans driving out, we visited almost every major national park that was the Pence family vacation and I'm proud to say as an early installment of this incredible investment in maintenance, Secretary Bernhardt had the Pence’s actually pounding nails and rebuilding the boardwalk at Old Faithful just last year.

The American people know we have the best national parks in the world. The truth is under the last administration, we saw a backlog of maintenance for all the talk about the environment, we saw projects, left aside and ignored literally $20 billions of work left to be done. I know you'll be happy to know, that this will also we believe, create more than 110,000 infrastructure jobs. As we improve our national parks we're putting Americans back to work.

BELTRAN: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi invited Democratic members of Congress to an enrollment ceremony outside by the Capitol Plaza. Raul Grijalva of Arizona and Chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources, joined her.

GRIJALVA: The set aside for Indian Country to address the urgent maintenance and upkeep needs in Indian schools across Indian country is also part of this legislation that was not noted enough. Let me just say it is historic but it's very very meaningful. My grand babies will be able to look back and say Tata did a very good thing once so I appreciate that. Thank you very much.

BELTRAN: Joe Cunningham a Freshmen from South Carolina also took the podium.

CUNNINGHAM: And we show the American people that despite the ongoing global pandemic and a divided government we can still come together to legislate and pass the most comprehensive package in our lifetime. And you know there is an old saying that we did not inherit this planet from our parents but it's on loan to us by our children. And tomorrow I look forward to flying home and being with my two year old son Boon and taking him to Watertown Park in Downtown Charleston or Pete St. Bridge places green spaces made possible by the Land and Water Conservation Fund. And I look forward to him passing those green spaces and more onto his children and future generations to come. At the end of the day that is what we are all here for.

BELTRAN: And just before she took a pen to formally enroll the passage of the Great American Outdoors Act, Speaker Nancy Pelosi echoed the sentiments of many.

PELOSI: Let me also acknowledge our friends in the environmental community and across the country who've taken an interest in all this for a very, very long time. So with that now, and with great pride and excitement for not only Jo Joe Cunningham's little baby, this is what it's about the future our children but for all of America's children.

BELTRAN: Funds enacted by the Great American Outdoors Act should be available in the next fiscal year, which begins in October. For Living on Earth, I’m Paloma Beltran.



NY Times | “Trump Signs the Great American Outdoors Act”

Watch the Great American Outdoors Act Presidential Signing Ceremony

Watch the Great American Outdoors Act Bill Enrollment Ceremony


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