There’s a Major Catch to the “Single Greatest Conservation Achievement in Generations”

By Cathalijne Adams
Jun 23 2020 |
Workers rehabilitate a trail in Grand Canyon National Park. | Photo courtesy of the National Park Service

The Great American Outdoors Act misses a significant opportunity to support America’s workers.

Like much of America’s infrastructure, national park maintenance has long been neglected, leading to a backlog of nearly $12 billion worth of projects. However, the Great American Outdoors Act, which passed the Senate on June 17, would direct billions in federal funding to deferred U.S. national park maintenance and is heralded by Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), one of the bill’s sponsors, as “the single greatest conservation achievement in generations.”

Sounds like seriously good news, right? I mean, who doesn’t love national parks? But there’s a major catch.

The federal funds that would be invested in U.S. national parks could end up in China’s hands if the bill becomes law without a Buy America amendment — a significant missed opportunity to support America’s workers while the nation grapples with the catastrophic economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

As we’ve written before, Buy America is a critical component of America’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and must be included in any infrastructure package. These provisions, if included in the Great American Outdoors Act, would ensure that America’s manufacturers and workers have the first opportunity to provide the steel, iron and other raw materials that our national parks need, reinvesting U.S. taxpayer funds into U.S. communities.

Investment in America's public lands is long overdue, but doing so without Buy America provisions would be an egregious rebuke of the millions of unemployed Americans who stand ready to work. 

Now is the time for legislators to act on their behalf. By the end of July, workers currently buoyed by Pandemic Unemployment Assistance will be plunged back into dire straits when the program concludes, and a recent Bloomberg Economics report suggests that 30% of U.S. job losses from this February to May could be permanent. Meanwhile, news of job cuts continues to emerge among manufacturers, large and small alike.

Furthermore, while the U.S. grapples with the catastrophic impacts of the coronavirus on its public health and economy, China is preparing to leverage its advantage in recovery from the pandemic by infiltrating U.S. infrastructure projects, a recent Horizon Advisory study reveals. Indeed, while the world economy is still reeling from COVID-19, China has been pumping out “more steel in May than in any month since records began in 1986, according to data from the National Bureau of Statistics.”

China is waiting in the wings to claim the U.S. government funds that the Great American Outdoors Act would direct to national parks. But, as the bill makes its way to the House for a vote, legislators have the opportunity to make the Great American Outdoors Act a win for America’s parks and America’s workers by incorporating Buy America provisions.