The Knoxville News Sentinel: Senator Lamar Alexander: Bill that helps the Smokies is ‘most satisfying’ of his career
Posted on June 17, 2020
By: Georgiana Vines
June 17, 2020
Sen. Lamar Alexander said the anticipated passage of the Great American Outdoors Act, legislation designed to help with deferred maintenance in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and other federal properties, is the “most satisfying” of any legislation he’s worked on.
“I have seen the difference when we’re all proper stewards of land and water,” he said.
Alexander, who has worked on legislation for years to help with a $224 million maintenance program in the Smokies, said the vote was expected around noon Wednesday. The vote is expected to be lopsided, since a procedural vote last week passed 80-17.
The Blount County resident, who has a home adjacent to the national park, predicted the House could pass it easily since the House Interior Committee had passed “all of this bill in pieces before. They should like this bill. It’s more like what they passed,” he said.
And if the House passes it, the legislation would go to President Donald Trump. Trump is on record in supporting the legislation, the senator said. Alexander also said if the House should add any amendments, to be considered by the Senate, he couldn’t predict that the legislation would pass again.
The legislation fully and permanently funds the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a goal of Congress since it was first passed in 1964. The money comes “from oil, gas, coal or alternative or renewable energy development on federal land and water.” It also includes Alexander’s earlier bill, Restore Our Parks Act, to restore the country’s national parks and cut in half the national parks’ $12 billion deferred maintenance backlog.
The legislation includes funds for national forests, including Cherokee National Forest along the Tennessee-North Carolina border; Fish & Wildlife Service; and the Bureau of Land Management, Alexander said in an interview. He said those agencies were added after he talked with Trump when the president came to Tennessee in March following serious tornado damage in Putnam County.
Permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund was recommended in 1964 by the Rockefeller Commission and was the No. 1 recommendation for President Ronald Reagan's Commission on Americans Outdoors, which Alexander chaired.
Alexander has really pushed a bill to help restore maintenance for national parks since former Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke stayed at his home on Chilhowee Mountain while visiting the Smokies in 2017 and 2018. Alexander has said Zinke asked him to sponsor the legislation, which has the support of current Interior Secretary David Bernhardt.
Alexander said Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials are “raring to go” in implementing a maintenance plan once the legislation is passed. Dana Soehn, a park spokeswoman, earlier told Knox News that new federal dollars would go toward wastewater and water treatment facilities, and roads and projects like facility improvements to places like the Sugarlands Visitor Center, which needs $1 million worth of work by itself.