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Lamar Alexander says U.S. Senate is Considering the Most Important Conservation Legislation in 50 Years

U.S. SenateWashington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today said legislation the Senate is considering this week – the Great American Outdoors Act –  is the biggest boost to our national parks in 50 years.

The legislation fully funds the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) permanently, a goal of Congress since it was first passed in 1964, and includes Alexander’s bill to restore our country’s national parks and cut in half our parks’ $12 billion deferred maintenance backlog.

U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander
U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander

“The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has about 12 million visitors a year. That’s three or four times as many as Yellowstone or any of the Western parks. It has $224 million of deferred maintenance and an annual budget of $20 million a year,” stated Senator Alexander

“So you don’t have to have gone too far in mathematics in the Maryville public school system to understand that it would probably take 15, 20, 25 years, or never, to be able to get rid of the deferred maintenance in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park – our most visited national park,” Senator Alexander said. “Now that’s a massive disappointment to people who consider our national parks as our greatest treasures – who go to our parks and find a campground closed, a bathroom not working, a bridge that’s closed, a road with potholes, a trail that’s worn out or a visitor center that could be dilapidated.

“This is what we’re talking about. We’re talking about deferred maintenance – things that are broken and don’t work and interfere with the ability of the American people to go outdoors.”

“Of all the times in our recent history that people would like to go outdoors, it would be right now, just to get out of the house and get away. And of all the times when we’ve needed some extra jobs, it would be right now, when 14 percent of the people in Tennessee are out of work,” Senator Alexander continued. “As the bill has made its way through the Senate, we’ve also added support for other public lands, including the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the Bureau of Indian Education.”

On fully funding the LWCF permanently, Senator Alexander said: “I’ve always thought taking an environmental burden – drilling offshore for oil and gas – and creating an environmental benefit is a good idea. … The number one recommendation for President Reagan’s Commission on Americans Outdoors was to permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund. This bill does that.”

Senator Alexander concluded: “I hope we have great success with this bill. I know that the people of Tennessee are looking forward to it. I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that in the Cherokee National Forest – which is the largest piece of public land in Tennessee – will get help with their $27 million maintenance backlog to make sure their access roads are kept open for the three million visitors each year, which is about as many visitors as most of our western parks have, and the Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge will get help with their $8.4 million maintenance backlog to make sure the hunters and fishers can safely use the boats docks and boat ramps. So we’ll never get these backlogs fixed if we don’t pass a bill like this.”

The Great American Outdoors Act will fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) permanently. The LWCF has played a large role in protecting the outdoors. In Tennessee, the LWCF has provided about $221.4 million for conservation and outdoor recreation efforts since the 1960’s.  This legislation also includes the Restore Our Parks Act, legislation Alexander introduced that would be the single biggest help to the National Park System in 50 years.

It would cut in half the maintenance backlog at our national parks, making $6.5 billion available over the next 5 years to fix roads, campsites and hiking trails so Americans can enjoy them. The bill also provides funding for four other federal land management agencies’ maintenance backlogs: The U.S. Forest Service; The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; The Bureau of Land Management; The Bureau of Indian Education.

The U.S. Senate voted Monday to consider the Great American Outdoors Act by a vote of 80-17.


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