US House passes major enviro bill benefiting SWFL; Florida senators, representatives split

07-24-20 Everglades Nat Pk SrThe Everglades.       (Photo: National Park Service)

July 24, 2020 by David Silverberg.

On Wednesday, July 22, the US House of Representatives passed the Great American Outdoors Act (HR 1957) by a vote of 310 to 107.

The bill, originally introduced by the late Rep. John Lewis (D-5-Ga.), establishes a National Parks and Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund to fund deferred maintenance on public lands like national parks, reserves and refuges and makes ongoing funding permanent and reliable.

Major Southwest Florida national parks and tourist destinations like Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve will benefit from the infusion of funds for upgrades, improvements and repairs.

The money will come from half the revenue the government receives from energy development including both fossil fuel and renewable energy sources. It will fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the money supporting conservation efforts, permanently providing it with $900 million per year. A second part of the legislation provides $1.9 billion every year for five years for public lands maintenance.

Having now passed both the House and Senate, it is likely to be signed into law by President Donald Trump.

Florida representatives and senators split on the legislation.

The Senate version of the bill passed on June 17 by a vote of 73 to 25. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) voted for it, Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) voted against it.

Among Southwest Florida’s representatives, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) voted for it, Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) voted against it and Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.) was absent.

All Florida Democrats voted for the bill, which reconciled both an earlier House version and the Senate version. In addition to Diaz-Balart, four Florida Republicans broke party ranks to approve it: Reps. Gus Bilirakis (12) Vern Buchanan (16), Brian Mast (18) and John Rutherford (4).

Rooney’s absence was ironic since he was a co-sponsor of the original legislation and actively promoted it.

“Ensuring that the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) receives appropriate and consistent funding is critical for the preservation of our nation’s parks and public lands,” he stated when the bill passed. “That is why I am a proud co-sponsor of the bipartisan Great American Outdoors Act. This landmark legislation will establish the National Parks and Public Land Restoration Fund to make funding for the LWCF permanent and mandatory.

“Southwest Florida is home to some of the most beautiful and treasured natural landscapes. Throughout my time in Congress, I have worked to make certain that SWFL is given the resources needed to maintain its environmental quality. The Great American Outdoors Act is an extended effort to do just that.”

There had been strong support for the legislation by conservation and environmental groups.

The Nature Conservancy, a global non-profit environmental organization based in Arlington, Va., also praised the bill’s passage.

“At a time when our country needs to create jobs and rebuild local economies while also protecting nature and places where everyone can recreate outdoors, the Great American Outdoors Act answers the call on all fronts,” stated Jennifer Morris, chief executive office of The Nature Conservancy.

Environment Florida, a non-profit conservation organization, applauded the passage.

“With today’s passage of this bill, we’re one step away from putting a lock and key on funding that has always been intended for conservation projects — yet consistently diverted to other purposes,” stated Wendy Wendlandt, acting president of a national network of environmental groups that includes Environment Florida. “We’re closer to adopting a new consciousness for today’s world, that our lives are made richer if surrounded by more nature, rather than more extracted resources. We applaud the House’s bipartisan passage of the Great American Outdoors Act and ask that President Trump sign this important bill.”

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg

 

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