Cantwell Highlights Economic Benefits of Land and Water Conservation Fund, Urges Senate to Move Forward on Historic Public Lands Bill

Cantwell: “the economic return on public lands is phenomenal”; LWCF is “one of the smartest fiscal policies we could ever make”; America’s outdoor economy generates $887 billion in annual consumer spending and supports 7.6 million American jobs, including over 200,000 jobs in Washington state

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, ahead of a pivotal budget vote on the Great American Outdoors Act, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) took to the Senate floor to emphasize how the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) is smart fiscal policy, and to highlight the economic importance of investing in our public lands. The Great American Outdoors Act would permanently fund the LWCF at its full authorization level of $900 million annually, and it would also allocate $9.5 billion dollars to tackle long neglected maintenance projects at National Parks, national forests, wildlife refuges, and Tribal schools around the country.

"The economic return of public lands is phenomenal,” Cantwell said. “It generates activity that generates income to county governments, to state governments, to the federal government, and lots of private entities are involved. So hundreds of billions of dollars are spent—in fact, $877 billion, as part of a report that was issued a few years ago.”

In her remarks, Cantwell referenced reports that America’s outdoor recreation economy generates over $887 billion in annual consumer spending and supports 7.6 million American jobs. In Washington state alone, the outdoor recreation economy contributes over $26 billion in consumer spending and supports over 200,000 direct jobs.

“In my mind…it is one of the smartest fiscal policies we could ever make. That is, to spend money, not from the taxpayer, but from these private entities on offshore drilling, that goes into something for the benefit of the taxpayer, that generates economic return to all of us. I can’t ask for a better tax policy than to use—or fiscal policy—to use it to preserve open space and public land, and generate revenue, and help all of us enjoy the outdoors,” Cantwell said.

Cantwell also emphasized how, because both the LWCF and the investments in park maintenance are paid for by royalties on offshore oil and gas drilling, these funds won’t require new taxes or federal debt.

“Revenue raising from offshore leasing and investing in public land was exactly what Scoop Jackson had in mind when he authored the Land and Water Conservation Fund more than 50 years ago. And it is absolutely what we should be doing. So I’m glad my colleagues have realized this is the right fiscal policy, that it is good for us, and it is good for Americans’ future.”

“I’m very happy that we’re making this investment,” Cantwell concluded, urging her colleagues to reject the budget point of order and move forward with the legislation. “To me, the issue isn’t the budget point of order, as much as it is the question of why this program has been around for so long, and the money wasn’t used in the program. Probably somewhere around $20 billion dollars has been used for other things instead of the intended purpose of the Land and Water Conservation Fund.”

Since its creation, LWCF has supported more than 42,000 state and local projects in communities across the country, including investing more than $700 million in more than 600 projects in Washington state. Senator Cantwell has been a leading congressional champion of the LWCF. She led the fight to reauthorize the program after it expired in 2015 and authored bipartisan legislation, signed into law in 2019, that permanently reauthorized the program. Shortly after that bill was signed into law, Cantwell reintroduced her bipartisan legislation to make full LWCF funding mandatory and she has led the fight to ensure the LWCF receives the full $900 million level of funding authorized to it each year.

Video of Senator Cantwell’s floor speech is available HERE, and audio is available HERE.