President Trump signed the Great American Outdoors Act Tuesday in Washington, though Colorado provided the roots of the most significant conservation legislation in at least a generation.
The bill ensures about $2 billion a year for the Land and Water Conservation Fund for public lands continues to be supplied in perpetuity with money from oil and gas leases. The bill also tackles the long-neglected state of America's national parks with billions of federal dollars.
Ivanka Trump, oldest daughter of President Donald Trump and a special adviser in his administration, came to Colorado Thursday to celebrate the final Congressional passage of the Great American Outdoors Act.
Colorado is expected to benefit mightily, generating commerce from outdoor recreation and dollars in the tax bases across the nation.
U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner authored the bill, and Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet was a key ally. In a statement Tuesday, Bennet turned to his work on the LWCF.
“After a decade of leading this effort, I’m thrilled that full funding for LWCF has been signed into law," said Bennet. "This is the culmination of hard work by Coloradans who have put in the work, year after year, calling for Congress to invest in our public lands, and support our state’s economy. Their dedication and advocacy are why this bill was signed into law today."
Gardner was tasked with getting the president onboard. The win will likely help the Republican incumbent with conservation-minded moderate voters as he faces former Gov. John Hickenlooper in November.
Gardner on Monday afternoon recalled going to the White House with pictures of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison to show the brash New Yorker.
The Great American Outdoors Act, authored and driven by Coloradans, passed the U.S. House Wednesday by a vote of 310-107 and now heads to President Trump, who is expected to sign the most sweeping public lands legislation in a generation.
"I showed him a statue of Teddy Roosevelt and told him this would be the most significant establishment since Teddy Roosevelt, and here we are," Gardner said. "It's a great historic day for the country and a great historic day for outdoors."
Trump said as he signed the bill Tuesday, “There hasn’t been anything like this since Teddy Roosevelt, I suspect.”
It was Trump, however, who emptied out the Land and Water Conservation Fund in 2017.
Bipartisan rescue attempts for the LWCF have fizzed out the past three years, and Gardner noted that the Senate passed a bill last session to fund the maintenance backlog in parks, but it couldn't get out of the House.
"They've all stalled out at different parts of the process," he said of various attempts at what the Great American Outdoors Act accomplishes.
Making the problem bigger by joining to two efforts in one bill pulled Republicans and Democrats together.
"They were so important to solve that both of them together everyone saw the path," Gardner said. "That's exactly how we did it."
The bill passed the Senate 73-25 on June 17 and the House on July 22 with a bipartisan 310-107 margin, with 253 House co-sponsors.
Read the bill by clicking here.
The legislation was co-sponsored in the House by Democratic Reps. Joe Neguse of Boulder County, Diana DeGette of Denver, Ed Perlmutter of Arvada and Jason Crow or Aurora.
Tuesday morning, the Sierra Club, a critic of Gardner and an organization that tends to endorse Democrats, officially announced Hickenlooper
"Colorado deserves a Senator who will prioritize public lands and conservation from day one, not just when it is politically convenient," Emily Gedeon, the organization's state chapter director, said in a statement.
Hickenlooper stated in the press release, "Working shoulder to shoulder with the Sierra Club when I was governor, we led the country and passed 'gold standard' environmental protections to protect Colorado’s public lands, clean air, and clean water. But with Cory Gardner’s support, President Trump has rolled back many of those same types of environmental protections."
The anti-Trump advocacy group Climate Power 2020 also used the public lands achievement as a political spear Tuesday.
“While Donald Trump and Cory Gardner attempt to paint themselves as environmentalists following the passage of the Great American Outdoors Act, their records tell a much different story," said Nederland Mayor Kristopher Larsen, the organization's Colorado co-chair, said in a statement. "Time and again, Gardner has sided with his fossil fuel donors over Coloradans and the lands they cherish. On top of this, Gardner surrounds himself with science deniers and pushes their dangerous agenda while workers and families struggle to adapt to the climate crisis."
During the Democratic primary, Andrew Romanoff, the former state House speaker, pegged Hickenlooper for accepting donations from people in the fossil fuel industry, which used to employ Hickenlooper before he was laid off and opened a brew pub in Denver. Hickenlooper countered that he didn't accept money from political action committees.
Hickenlooper also compromised with the industry on fracking while he was governor and the state's enhanced regulation of the industry has come under his successor, Gov. Jared Polis.
Also on Tuesday, Secretary of Interior David Bernhardt, who grew up in Rifle, announced that August 4. annually will be designated Great American Outdoors Day, when fees will be waived at property controlled by the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“President Trump has just enacted the most consequential dedicated funding for national parks, wildlife refuges, public recreation facilities and American Indian school infrastructure in U.S. history,” he stated.
The designation includes several free days this year. In national parts, it's Aug. 5. Aug. 25,. Sept. 26 and Nov. 11, which is Veteran's Day. On BLM there will be no charge on Aug. 5. Sept. 26 and Nov. 11. In national forests, fees will be waived on Aug. 5, Sept. 26, Oct. 11 and Nov. 11.
Jessica Wahl, executive director of Boulder-based national advocacy organization the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable, said, "Now that the president has signed the Great American Outdoors Act it is time to roll up our sleeves and get to work implementing the law to conserve our public lands and waters, revitalize our rural and gateway communities and provide a boost to the outdoor recreation industry."