Outdoors Legislation Bridges Partisan Divides

    January 31, 2017
    by Marc Berejka

    Editor's Note: Blue Sky joins REI in celebrating two legislative victories for people and nature! In this post, originally published on REI's Co-Op Journal on December 14th, 2016, Marc Berejka shares hope for overcoming partisan division through the outdoors.

    For more months now, the headlines have highlighted the nation’s political rifts and how the divisions are likely to continue into next year despite calls for greater patience and healing. Lost in the noise is the fact that, in its closing weeks, the 114th Congress came together with overwhelming bipartisan support to enact two laws that promote outdoor recreation.

    In a major milestone for the outdoor industry, Congress directed the U.S. government to begin tabulating outdoor recreation’s economic impact. Under the so-called REC Act, the Bureau of Economic Analysis will assess how outdoor recreation generates jobs, contributes to GDP and creates other economic benefits across the country. President Obama signed the act into law on December 8, 2016.

    In another win for the outdoors, and in one of its last acts before adjourning, Congress also passed the National Park Service Centennial Act. The new law takes important steps toward reducing the National Park Service’s $12 billion maintenance backlog, including the creation of an endowment and a means to fund it. And it makes it easier for volunteers to pitch in with interpretive services and stewardship.

    REI Co-op Lends a Helping Hand to Advocate for Outdoor Legislation

    The Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) launched the first-ever economic impact study in 2006, with support and input from the REI Co-op. OIA repeated the study in 2012, finding that outdoor recreation directly supports over 6 million jobs and generates almost $650B in annual consumer spending. Earlier this year, the Interior Department’s Secretary, Sally Jewell, announced that she had coordinated help from different agencies to run a pilot study from within the U.S. government. Now Congress has made the study mandatory.

    REI is proud of our advocacy work in partnership with other outdoor brands, non-governmental organizations and the OIA to help make this happen. Legislating is painstaking, with thousands of bills introduced each year and relatively few passing. It’s particularly uncommon for a bill like the REC Act, which was only introduced last fall, to have been introduced and to unanimously become law just over a year later.

    The bill went through without a single opposing vote. It’s a firm testament that the essence of #UnitedOutside rings true–the outdoors provides common ground.

    Unanimous Support for National Park Service Funding Stream

    The National Park Service Centennial Act is another example of the outdoors’ unifying power, as the bill was coaxed along during the last several weeks by legislators working across the aisle, including Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, and Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.

    Here too, there was a good amount of collaborative advocacy on the part of industry, NGO partners and the REI Co-op. Similarly, most gratifying is the fact that, as the Senate wrapped up its work in the early hours of December 10, the Centennial bill passed with unanimous consent.

    It’s an understatement to say the current political environment is unpredictable. Americans of all political stripes love the outdoors. Even in contentious times, the outdoors can bring our legislative ideas and advocacy together in ways that unite us. Any upcoming challenges, we hope, will also create new kinds of opportunities like these.  

    Marc Berejka is the REI Co-Op’s director of community and government affairs. He and his colleagues advocate for public policies that support the outdoors, and they guide the Co-Op’s support for hundreds of nonprofits across the country. This post originally appeared on REI's Co-op Journal.


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