The following editorial first appeared in The Seattle Times.
Long-awaited funding to sustain America’s public lands is finally near becoming law. The U.S. House and President Donald Trump should join the Senate in approving permanent revenue for the Land and Water Conservation Fund out of the royalties paid for energy development on federal land.
The Senate has shown wide bipartisan support for the measure. Washington’s Democratic Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell are among 60 bill sponsors, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republicans. Senate passage is expected within days.
This is a momentous step toward a serious victory for a cause long dear to Washington. The late Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson led the creation of the fund, which became federal law in 1964, to divert money from federal oil and gas royalties to improve outdoor spaces.
Without tapping tax dollars, the program has created and improved outdoor recreation spaces across the country, at levels from Mount Rainier National Park to Gas Works Park.
The policy wisdom of this program has stood the test of time, but its execution has been another story. Over the decades, Congress diverted much of the energy royalties to other causes, leaving the outdoor recreation fund $22 billion short of its allocation.
That shortsighted spending decision has had economic consequences. Outdoor recreation spending is vital to the tourism and retail sectors, and investing the fund’s allocated $900 million a year boosts how much the American public can get out and enjoy the great outdoors. In Washington, more than 200,000 jobs are linked to outdoor recreation.
That industry deserves robust support, especially during the ongoing economic crisis. Its benefits go beyond money into the quality of life that comes from having ample urban parks, forestlands and mountain trails to explore — an effect amplified by months of self-isolation.
“Now more than ever, we need to promote access to the shared public lands,” Cantwell said.
This bill can ensure it. The proposal also devotes money to heal longstanding federal shortcomings at Olympic National Park and Mount Rainier. Together, those two parks have more than $400 million in deferred maintenance that the bill would cover.
The bill guarantees permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, reversing the legislative whittling that has left it short over the years. Political winds are at the bill’s back. President Trump has signaled support, in part because Republican senators in outdoors-loving Colorado and Montana face reelection battles. This moment must be seized, for the good of Washington and all outdoors-loving Americans.