Sen. Lankford says American Outdoors Act will only add to irresponsible spending

Environmentalists and conservationists are calling it a huge victory—the U.S. Senate vote this week in support of the Great American Outdoors Act which will fund $9.5 billion in national forests, parks and refuges. But Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma voted against it, saying it only adds to the government’s irresponsible spending on federal land.

He and Sen. Jim Inhofe voted no as the measure passed on a 75-23 vote and was sent to the U.S. House of Representatives.

“The federal government owns 640 million acres of land, but we still have not agreed on a plan to maintain or care for that land without adding billions to our federal debt,” said Sen. Lankford in offering an explanation of his ‘no’ vote. ” I support our public lands, but I am opposed to buying land than not caring for it or ignoring the cost of care.”

The Republican Senagtor said the maintenance backlog on the nation’s federal land does not require the government  to choose between caring for national parks or caring about the national debt.

“If the Senate dared to acknowledge that finite resources require us to prioritize our wants and needs, we would have voted on any one of the amendments offered by members that identified ways to not increase our debt while caring for our maintenance needs. My proposal was a compromise that would have allowed the Land and Water Conservation Fund to buy land as it does now and provide maintenance funding for those lands,” said Lankford. “We can be better stewards of our national treasures without further burdening future generations with our irresponsible spending.”

Lankford spoke on the Senate floor last week to outline why he opposed the bill. He introduced five amendments to be considered added to the bill. The amendments include,

·        Changing the maintenance fund from mandatory funding to discretionary funding, and putting a measure in place to prevent the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) from receiving discretionary acquisition dollars in addition to the mandatory acquisitions dollars;

·        Eliminating the standalone maintenance fund and instead use the permanent/mandatory LWCF funding source to pay for maintenance;

·        Requiring all new acquisitions to account for existing maintenance needs on the land at the time of purchase and have a plan to fund those repairs with LWCF dollars;

·        Providing a sunset for the mandatory LWCF funding after five years; and

·        Specifying that in the event that public lands suitable for environmental mitigation exist within a 100 mile radius from a proposed infrastructure project, no federal agency may require that the project sponsor acquire or otherwise pay for private land to offset the environmental impact of the infrastructure project.

Lankford highlighted the mismanagement of the current maintenance backlog on our federal lands in the first volume of Federal Fumbles: ways the government dropped the ball (page 108). Lankford noted in the report that Congress must allow the LWCF to also be used to take care of the deferred maintenance backlog. In volume 5 of Federal Fumbles, Lankford again highlighted the shortcomings of our land management policies and raised the dire budgetary implications of potential action to make LWCF spending mandatory (page 3).

Source: Sen. James Lankford