Haaland, Meng Introduce Bill to Increase Access to Public Lands and Fight Environmental Injustice

September 28, 2020
Press Release

Bill Text | One Pager | Endorsement List

Washington, D.C. – Today, Representatives Deb Haaland (NM-01) and Grace Meng (NY-06) announced the introduction the Environmental Justice in Recreational Permitting Act to increase access to public lands for all communities and fight environmental injustice. The United States of America is home to vast public lands that belong to everyone, but communities of color and low-income communities have fewer natural areas and open spaces near their neighborhoods and face obstacles to accessing our public lands.

The Environmental Justice in Recreation Permitting Act aims to increase access to public lands for all communities and fight environmental injustice by requiring the Secretaries of Interior and Agriculture to gather important data on how the recreational permitting process is working for environmental justice communities and deliver a report to relevant Congressional committees on case studies, barriers to access, and recommendations improving the process.

“Equal access to natural areas and open lands is a right that everyone holds, however low-income communities across the U.S. are consistently denied access to these natural treasures, and the benefits that public lands provide. The Environmental Justice in Recreational Permitting Act will make sure that all communities benefit from the gifts that our public lands provide,” said Congresswoman Deb Haaland, Vice Chair of the Committee on Natural Resources.

“America’s great outdoors is a precious gift that should be enjoyed by all. Unfortunately, we lack data on who benefits from access to public lands. I’m honored to join Congresswoman Haaland in leading the Environmental Justice in Recreational Permitting Act to illuminate who currently benefits and what Congress can do to help communities of color and low-income communities access those public goods. I look forward to this bill passing and the subsequent report to follow,” said Congresswoman Grace Meng.

According to the Center for American Progress, nearly 84 percent of communities of color and 80 percent of low-income communities in the West live in areas where the amount of natural area is less than the state average. Cross-sectional data studies suggest that people who live close to parks are more active and have better health outcomes.

Specifically, the Environmental Justice in Recreational Permitting Act:

  • Gathers important data on inequities in access to recreation 
  • Requires Secretaries of Interior and Agriculture to deliver a report to the House Committee on Natural Resources and Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee providing the following information:
  1. An estimate of special recreation permit use by providers serving environmental justice communities,
  2. An overview of policies at all scales of government that facilitate public lands access that serves environmental justice communities,
  3. Case studies of special recreation permits, partnerships, or cooperative agreements are being effectively used to expand public lands access to environmental justice communities
  4. A list of current or potential barriers for access for environmental justice community access providers, and
  5. Recommendations for how to improve public lands access for environmental justice communities

“Outfitters, guides and other outdoor leaders provide people with great recreation experiences on America’s public lands. We must continue to build on those outdoor and economic opportunities by ensuring these experiences are available to everyone, including Tribal and Indigenous communities, low income families, and people of color. We need more information to determine whether all people are benefitting equitably from access to our public lands. This legislation can help better inform and strengthen decisions made down the road about our recreational permitting system which will help connect more people - and all people - to America’s treasured lands. With Congress’ action to adopt Representative Haaland’s bill we can move one step closer to ensuring all feel more welcomed and included in the outdoor experience.” -Paul Sanford, National Director of Recreation Policy, The Wilderness Society\

“American Hiking Society applauds Rep. Haaland’s leadership in introducing the Environmental Justice in Recreation Permitting Act to ensure all communities are benefiting from the outdoor recreation opportunities provided by special recreation permits. Special recreation permits often give hikers, other recreation users, and visitors to public lands their first experience in the outdoors through guides, outfitters, and organized group trips. Identifying ways that special recreation permits can more effectively serve communities that have historically lacked or been denied access is essential in realizing an outdoors for all.” -Kate Van Waes, Executive Director, American Hiking Society.

The bill is also co-sponsored by Congressional Progressive Caucus Co-Chair,  Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (WA-07), Congresswoman Nanette Barragan (CA-44), Congressman Danny K. Davis (IL-07), Congressman Adriano Espaillat (NY-13), and Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (MI-13)