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The Trump administration has already neutered the Great American Outdoors Act

U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt has issued an order that will allow states to veto projects financed by the Land and Water Conservation Fund.


Well, that didn’t take long. 

Public lands advocates cheered this summer when the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA), which guarantees permanent financial support for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), was passed. Now, just a few months later, a top official in the Trump administration is attempting to undercut that achievement by saddling the law with potentially ruinous restrictions.

U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt issued an order late last week that grants states veto power over the use of LWCF funds within their borders. The order also redirects control of LWCF funds away from Congress and grants them to the president. This sudden about-face comes on the heels of another disappointing development: the DOI’s failure to file a list of LWCF projects for 2021 by the deadline established in the GAOA.

Leaders in the outdoor industry were, predictably, unamused by this latest example of the anti-environmental parlor games that have issued from the Trump administration for the last four years. (In another sudden move this week, the Interior Department opened bidding for oil and gas leases on Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Following a public comment period and mandatory waiting period that total 60 days, the lease sale will begin about a week before Biden takes office. The president-elect has vowed to block any proposed drilling that results from the sale, but the process for doing so would be complicated.)

Several industry leaders released statements about the new LWCF restrictions.

Lise Aangeenbrug, executive director of Outdoor Industry Association

“By attempting to rewrite law, the Interior Department is circumventing the intent of the Great American Outdoors Act, the nation’s most significant and celebrated step forward on conservation in decades. Caring for our nation’s lands and waters not only promotes a thriving planet, but creates enormous returns for local communities, most of whom are still fighting their way through a recovery. This bipartisan achievement came at a moment of deep division, economic anxiety, and yearning for the outdoors. GAOA met the moment. Now Interior must do the same by carrying out the law and distributing LWCF funds as intended.”

Adam Cramer, executive director of Outdoor Alliance

“[This] secretarial order kneecaps the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Signing the Great American Outdoors Act into law only to undermine its implementation suggests that the administration is more interested in political posturing than actually protecting and maintaining our country’s public lands and waters. Our public lands have already waited too long for the funding they direly need, and to have Interior cancel dozens of projects puts the outdoors at risk. Americans love their public lands, and want to see them funded and cared for. With a global pandemic limiting indoor activities and gatherings, this year has seen historic participation in the outdoors and a greater awareness of how much we need to invest to create more equitable access and maintain the places we get outside.”

Brady Robinson, executive director of The Conservation Alliance

“The way in which the Land and Water Conservation Fund was reauthorized and permanently funded—through the overwhelmingly bipartisan passage of the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act in March of 2019, and the Great American Outdoors Act just months ago—proves how public lands unite us, especially in a time of unprecedented uncertainty. Bernhardt’s secretarial order is just the latest egregious attempt by the Trump administration to roll back conservation and bedrock environmental laws.”