Congress: Maybe the Outdoors Matter!

You sitting down? Congress just passed bill to benefit outdoor industry/environment

The wild seas and jagged coastline make navigating this area a painstaking affair, although clearly worth the effort. Photo: Koreski

Congress just made it easier to justify protecting the environment. I can’t believe it either. Photo: Koreski

I don’t really understand how it happened, but Congress just passed a BI-PARTISAN bill called the Outdoor Recreation Jobs and Economic Impact (REC). This legislation (Hey! Keep reading, this is the last time this word appears, I swear) will track how much money the country spends on the outdoor industry--including retail, travel, guide services, among other things--each year. Here’s a hint for Congress: it’s a lot of money. The Outdoor Industry Association estimated that we spend about $650 billion annually to have fun outside.

Yes, that includes surfing.

Here’s why it matters: The outdoors industry now gets a seat at the big boy’s table when it comes to the nation’s economy. The GDP will now include outdoors and recreation spending. Because $650 bil. is a gigantic amount of money, it now gives more weight to the concerns of people who depend on the outdoors for both fun and their livelihood. If some horrible governmental decision looks like it might threaten say, a surf spot, the REC report can step in to say “not so fast – people spend lots of money to get to and surf spots like that, and look, here’s the data to prove it. Harming that break will cost a fortune.” This is much more powerful than arguing, essentially: “Please don’t destroy the environment -- we really like it and we need it to live” which has so far not proven to be a convincing argument to those in power.

Since it looks for all the world like the incoming administration will look to strip environmental protections in the name of corporate profits (god help us all), this new bit of ammunition will give a much much bigger voice to the outdoors community when it comes to arguing for environmental safeguards. And that voice will speak a language that those who care only about the financial bottom line can understand.

President Obama still has to sign off on it, but assuming he does, this is a weirdly unexpected bit of good news for people who care about the environment. At least I think.