McConnell: Great American Outdoors Act Will Protect Kentucky’s Natural Treasures and Promote Prosperity

‘Kentucky is proud of our public lands. We are proud of the role our natural inheritance plays in our vibrant present and our promising future.'

“Over the last several weeks, major challenges have dominated the headlines on a daily basis.

“Following the sacrifices Americans made to fight the coronavirus, our nation is gradually beginning to re-open. Our economy has started adding back jobs. But some states are seeing their numbers increase, the fallout for American workers remains historic, and schools, universities, and employers are still looking for smart and safe ways to step back towards normal.

“The Senate is working to ensure our efforts to treat, contain, and recover from the pandemic can succeed. We’ve confirmed a Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery. Committees are overseeing the CARES Act. And Senator Cornyn is crafting measures to make sure a second epidemic of frivolous lawsuits does not block schools and colleges from reopening or employers from rehiring workers.

“At the same time, the killings of black Americans like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor have accelerated important conversations.

“With the leadership of Senator Scott of South Carolina, the Senate is preparing to add to the conversations surrounding law enforcement with our own serious proposal -- policies that would take smart steps without attacking the vast majority of police officers who bravely do their jobs the right way.

“But of course, there’s also a long list of legislative priorities which the Senate was going to tackle before these new issues materialized.

“This week, Chairman Inhofe and the Armed Services Committee have been marking up the 60th consecutive National Defense Authorization Act, which I hope the full Senate will be voting on later this month.

“And here on the floor, we’ve also been considering a landmark bill to protect and preserve our nation’s public lands for future generations.

“In my home state of Kentucky, we know all about the important role that public lands play in preserving our physical heritage; providing access for outdoor recreation, and sustaining jobs and prosperity in the process.

“Across the Commonwealth, outdoor recreation supports 120,000 jobs and drives nearly $13 billion dollars in consumer spending.

“From natural wonders like Red River Gorge and Mammoth Cave National Park to historic sites like Mill Springs Battlefield and Camp Nelson, Kentuckians have grown up enjoying our public lands and we intend to protect them for future generations.

“Let me give just one example. As I mentioned yesterday, when I came to the Senate, Kentucky was the only state in the union without its own national wildlife refuge.

“We had plenty of history and heritage. We just needed a little help to preserve them.

“With the support of hunters, boaters, and outdoorsmen in the Jackson Purchase region, I led the establishment of the Clarks River National Wildlife Refuge. It was a huge step to protect local species and our treasured Kentucky pastimes.

“This refuge has continued to grow. Thanks to the Land and Water Conservation Fund and many willing sellers, it now makes thousands of acres available for appreciation, recreation, and tourism.

“Like many public lands, these wildlife areas make great neighbors. In a single year, more than 50 million visitors come to America’s wildlife refuges nationwide and spend billions in nearby communities.

“Decades later, another Kentucky community was looking to safeguard its own natural treasure. The Green River, which flows through Kentucky and meets the Ohio near Henderson County, is one of the most bio-diverse waterways on the entire continent.

“I was proud to help take the lead once again, and alongside strong local supporters and a broad coalition of groups, we sent a bill to President Trump and he signed it into law. We welcomed the Interior Secretary to Western Kentucky last year to cut the ribbon on the Green River National Wildlife Refuge.

“But Kentuckians know that ribbon-cuttings are just the beginning.

“Our state has newly designated public lands that need attention to get off the ground. We have well-established public lands that have opportunities to grow and improve. And we have places like the Daniel Boone National Forest, established more than 80 years ago, that need our careful attention and upkeep.

“The legislation before the Senate will help with all of them.

“It will help us repair levees at the Clarks River National Wildlife Refuge. It will help our two Wildlife Refuges continue to grow.

“It will help Mill Springs Battlefield and Camp Nelson keep teaching the history of emancipation and the Civil War to new generations.

“It will help us make infrastructure upgrades at Mammoth Cave National Park for the safety of two million annual visitors.

“It will help enhance the Land Between the Lakes and its $600 million economic impact.

“It will fund transportation and structural maintenance in the Daniel Boone National Forest, which supports more than 900 jobs.

“It will help us rehabilitate the Cumberland Gap, and give future Americans the opportunity to literally follow in the footsteps of our early explorers.

“Kentucky is proud of our public lands. We are proud of the role our natural inheritance plays in our vibrant present and our promising future.

“And of course, we are just one state. Every one of my Senate colleagues has parks, forests, refuges, and historic sites they’re equally proud of. That are equally central in their communities.

“That’s why we voted to advance this legislation earlier this week by an overwhelming, bipartisan margin.

“President Teddy Roosevelt once said this about our nation’s natural treasures: “We have fallen heirs to the most glorious heritage a people ever received, and each one must do his part if we wish to show that the nation is worthy of its good fortune.”

“I want to thank Senator Daines and Senator Gardner for their leadership in making sure that we keep up our end of the bargain with the generations of Americans who came before us and those who are yet to come.

“I’m also grateful to Senator Alexander and Senator Portman, and our Democratic colleagues Senator Manchin and Senator Warner, for helping assemble this bipartisan bill.

“I will be proud to speak for Kentucky and vote for it.”

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