In Dana Egleston’s recent opinion piece “The Great American Outdoors Act drew bipartisan back-patting. But what are we celebrating?” published July 24, there were several misleading assertions made about the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) that deserve attention — especially now that the GAOA has been signed into law.
Passed by a bipartisan vote in both the U.S. House and Senate, the GAOA fully and permanently funds the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and provides $9.5 billion over five years to fix maintenance problems that are plaguing America’s public lands.
The legislation is a monumental advance for the protection of our public lands. For more than 50 years, the LWCF has not only been a safeguard for wide open spaces but also a key resource for expanding access to parks and recreation in our own neighborhoods. At the same time, until now, it had been chronically underfunded.
It is now, more than ever, necessary to not only acquire and protect public lands, but also maintain them. COVID-19 has pushed people out of their houses to seek solitude in Colorado’s public lands.
In fact, a new study published by Frontier Group found a 40% increase in public land access in Colorado during March 2020 compared to March 2019. Coloradans are seeking emotional, physical and spiritual rest and can find that outside.
While this increased access is something to celebrate, it also means we are contributing to the degradation of our parks. LWCF funds would help mitigate irreparable damage to Colorado’s public lands.
Nevertheless, Dana Egleston complains that the GAOA is backed by “dirty money.” That is misleading. The money used for LWCF funding since its inception does come from a single source — royalties paid by oil and gas companies to drill offshore.
The rationale behind that decision has always been to take funds from a deeply harmful activity and reinvest it into something good for conservation.
The Great American Outdoor Act’s passage doesn’t incentivize oil and gas drilling. It simply makes good use out of what we all hope is a dying industry. The United States is slowly and surely moving toward clean renewable energy sources.
So, when the time comes that royalties cease because we are no longer dependent on fossil fuels, we will gladly look for other resources to protect our sacred public lands. But until then, it makes perfect sense to use this money wisely.
This is especially true when you consider that, for years, Congress tragically shifted oil money — earmarked for the great outdoors through the LWCF — elsewhere.
In total, $22 billion has been diverted from conservation that was meant to be used for enhancing our natural world. We have that money diverted back to its original intention: conservation.
While we fight the good fight to make the transition to clean energy, it’s unclear what Egleston would rather do with that money. She wrote that “requiring dirty carbon money to support natural climate solutions, like those the conservation fund would provide — mitigating carbon from the very fossil fuels that fund them — is the type of thinking that got us here from the start.”
This isn’t true. After all, environmental advocates can walk and chew gum at the same time. In other words, we can and will both improve our public lands and continue to press for clean energy. Applauding the Great American Outdoors Act is no devil’s bargain. We are all winners for this.
We should be grateful for this rare bipartisan agreement in these fractured political times, but we will continue to move forward in our efforts to make our state and country cleaner and safer for generations to come. The two are far from mutually exclusive.
Hannah Collazo is State Director, Environment Colorado.
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