Outdoor REC Act passes Senate unanimously

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Monday night's unanimous, bipartisan vote showed great support for the outdoor industry.

Photo: Wikimedia commons

Photo: Wikimedia commons

Headline news these days might make you think there’s nothing that can unite our divided country and partisan politics, but a remarkable show of support for the outdoor industry last night proved that outdoor recreation is a powerful unifier—and an essential sector of the United States economy.

The Senate passed the Outdoor REC Act Monday night with a unanimous, bipartisan vote, echoing the House vote a few weeks ago. The bill calls for the United States government to quantify the economic impact of outdoor recreation, which accounts for $646 billion in consumer spending each year, and $80 billion in federal, state, and local tax revenue, according to the Outdoor Industry Association. For the first time, the outdoor recreation economy will be counted as part of the nation’s GDP.

OIA estimates that the government will determine that the outdoor recreation economy makes up about 3 to 6 percent of the total GDP, which is significant, said Jessica Wahl, government affairs manager for OIA.

The bill was passed by the House and Senate a little over a year after it was first introduced, which is incredibly fast for legislation.

“Everyone’s thrilled,” Wahl said Tuesday from her Washington office. “It’s not a divisive issue. Beyond that, it’s amazing to see how excited members of Congress are.”

Armed with government data that shows how important recreation is on public lands, the industry and its Congressional advocates will be able to lobby more effectively for land management policies, among other issues, that benefit recreation. And OIA hopes that Congress will now have reason to keep the outdoor industry in mind when it makes future policies, no matter the topic.

“We’re hoping that the next era of legislation, whether it’s transportation, tax, or commerce, has a lens that helps the recreation economy, as well,” Wahl said.

This is a landmark bill for OIA and its members throughout the industry, which lobbied hard for its passage with Wahl at the helm. OIA has called the bill “groundbreaking” and a “game changer,” because activities like hiking, skiing, hunting, surfing, and climbing, among others, will likely be quantified in an official federal report about their economic impacts. OIA expects that its own numbers—that outdoor recreation accounts for $646 billion in annual consumer spending—will be similar to what the government finds when it conducts its analysis for a report expected to be made public at the end of 2018.

"Outdoor Industry Association and the thousands of manufacturers, retailers and service providers in the outdoor recreation industry know about the hundreds of millions of dollars our industry contributes to the U.S. economy and the millions of jobs our businesses support," OIA Executive Director Amy Roberts said in a press release issued after the vote. "[Monday’s] Senate passage of the REC Act shows that Republicans and Democrats in both chambers of Congress understand that as well.”

The bill was introduced last year by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), and Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO). Obama is expected to sign it before the end of this year.

“Outdoor recreation is a cornerstone of our economy in Colorado, yet its true economic impact from the federal government’s perspective remains unknown,” Gardner said in OIA’s press release. “This legislation will educate policymakers on the outdoor recreation industry’s contribution to our economy, including the number of jobs it’s responsible for and the amount of consumer spending it generates. It’s a commonsense, bipartisan bill, and I look forward to President Obama signing it into law.”

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