Lawmakers eye finish line on outdoor recreation package

By Garrett Downs | 05/09/2024 06:41 AM EDT

Staff meetings are underway to reconcile a bipartisan House-passed bill with its Senate companion.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.).

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chair Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and House Natural Resources Chair Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) at the Capitol. The two have been working on an outdoor recreation compromise. Drew Angerer/AFP via Getty Images

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chair Joe Manchin said the chamber could be ready to move on a sweeping outdoor recreation package as soon as next week.

“I’m hoping we should have it ready by next week,” the West Virginia Democrat said in an interview. “Staffs are meeting as we speak to work it out with the House side. … We’ll have it worked out, just trying to make the language a little bit tighter.”

Manchin’s comments come nearly a month after the House passed its outdoor recreation bill, H.R. 6492, the “Expanding Public Lands Outdoor Recreation Experiences, by voice vote.


The Senate companion led by Manchin and Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), dubbed the “America’s Outdoor Recreation Act,” S. 873, advanced out of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee last year.

Manchin said he had talked to his House counterpart, Natural Resources Chair Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.), Tuesday night about the effort.

Together, the bills would overhaul large portions of U.S. policy governing recreation on public lands. The package includes new measures to increase internet access, allow ticketing to be moved online and streamline permitting.

The bills would also require the creation of ten new long-distance bike trails, codify rock climbers’ ability to place fixed anchors on climbing routes and create a new interagency council for recreation.

In praising its passage in the House last month, Natural Resources ranking member Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) pointed to several provisions, including increased accessibility for the disabled, more job opportunities for veterans and “clos[ing] the nature gap in underserved urban communities.”

The bill would permanently authorize the Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership, which provides grant funding for urban areas to develop green spaces and outdoor activities.

With that type of bipartisan enthusiasm, Barrasso, a member of Senate Republican leadership, told E&E News that a final bill should be “as easy as anything here” to pass once it hits the Senate floor.

But Barrasso said when legislation ultimately reaches the floor depends on Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s willingness to move it.

“Obviously, Schumer controls the floor,” Barrasso said. “It’s certainly something we’re working on, we’re working to try and put a number of bills together.”

Schumer, Manchin and Westerman all attended an event sponsored by the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable this week, where they expressed support for a package.

“We are grateful for their leadership and ORR will continue to lead the incredible coalition of support from the outdoor recreation industry and conservation community to pass this package of meaningful policies into law,” the group said.

Louis Geltman, vice president of policy and government relations for the Outdoor Alliance, called the House bill a “first-of-its-kind recreation policy that will improve and protect outdoor recreation experiences on public lands and waters.”

The legislation draws from multiple separate bills, including the “Simplifying Outdoor Access for Recreation (SOAR) Act,” the “Outdoor Recreation Act” and the “Recreation Not Red Tape Act.”

“I mean, it passed essentially unanimously out of committee and off the floor,” Westerman said. “So there’s huge bipartisan support for it.”