US Senate Passes the Great American Outdoors Act

The Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) passed the Senate on June 17th, 2020 by a wide bipartisan margin, 73-25!

US Senate votes to pass HR 1957, the vehicle for the Great American Outdoors Act. Credit: LWCF Coalition.

Partners in the PA Highlands region celebrate the Senate passage of GAOA, because it includes full, permanent and dedicated funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and establishes a 5-year fund to address the maintenance backlog in national parks. This is a win for beloved places across the country, for all those working so hard to increase access for all Americans to the outdoors no matter where they live, for the fight against climate change, and for the massive recreation economy that is facing a tough recovery.

In 1963, Congress passed the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act (the Act), in order to provide money for several key conservation programs, including the the national and state-side LWCF programs, Forest Legacy Program, Habitat Conservation (Sec. 6), the Battlefield Protection Program, and the federal Highlands program. The Pennsylvania Highlands region benefits from the Highlands Conservation Act, a program of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which allocates $10M annually for conservation land acquisition in the four-state Highlands region.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund, now in operation for over 50 years, has successfully levied a tax on offshore oil and gas leases and funded offsets for those activities through financial contributions to the above listed conservation programs. However, the Act authorized $900M annually for LWCF, and yet, Congress rarely appropriated more than half of those funds. The Great American Outdoors Act fixes that problem and ensures that the full amount designated for these conservation programs goes to the intended purpose.

The federal Highlands program, which has conserved 8,780 acres of the highest value conservation lands in the Highlands regions of PA, NJ, NY, and CT, is poised to increase its success and yearly allocation with the passage of the Great American Outdoors Act.

The US House is expected to take up and pass the Great American Outdoors Act in coming weeks. 

The GAOA victory in the Senate is a huge step toward passing the largest piece of conservation legislation in decades!

To learn more about the potential benefit represented by the Great American Outdoors Act in the tri-state (PA, NJ, DE) area, check out this Philadelphia Inquirer article from 6/22/2020.

Find more facts about the Great American Outdoors Act here.

Learn the facts about the economic benefits of GAOA here.

The Pennsylvania Highlands is a 1.4 million acre region that encompasses parts of 13 counties and boasts unique ecological and cultural resources that contribute to the economic and aesthetic value of the area, as well as provide opportunities for outdoor recreation and enjoyment. To learn more, visit