In a month that’s been marred with considerable turmoil in the political world—spreading ripples of uncertainty and fear throughout the outdoor industry in particular—a silver lining has emerged from Washington D.C.
On November 14, “H.R. 4665 Outdoor Recreation Jobs and Economic Impact Act of 2016,” known as the REC Act, was voted through the U.S. House of Representatives, putting this ground-breaking piece of legislation for the outdoor industry one step closer to being cemented as a law.
First introduced in the House in March by Virginia Rep. Donald Beyer (D) with 25 cosponsors, the REC Act will ensure that the outdoor industry counts on a federal level—literally. Should the bill pass the Senate and President to become a law, the Bureau of Economic Analysis of the Department of Commerce will be directed to assess and analyze the outdoor industry economy of the United States and the effects attributable to the overall nation’s GDP. That means these industries will receive equal footing alongside extractive industries when it comes to government accounting. We’re talking sales, travel and tourism contributions, jobs—the whole enchilada.
“The REC Act is one of our top legislative priorities, and it’s an extremely important bill for the industry,” said Alex Boian, Government Affairs at Outdoor Industry Association (OIA), a nonpartisan, non-profit organization dedicated to supporting the growth and success of the outdoor industry. Since 2006, OIA has been collecting and distributing facts and statistics identical to those proposed in the REC Act, but is looking forward to the outdoor industry being quantified on a federal level for the first time.
“It’s one thing for a private organization to say this is the industry’s worth, it’s another for the government agency that’s charged with assessing the economic contribution to say ‘this is what it’s worth’,” said Boian.
One year prior to the REC Act’s introduction to the House of Representatives, Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, launched an initiative to measure and quantify the outdoor industry’s impact on the U.S. economy. Jewell’s two-year “pilot program” is currently underway, and is expected to start producing numbers at a national level by 2018. If the REC Act passes, those two years will be infinitely extended, and the outdoor industry will be able to chalk up a big, long-term political win.
“This puts the outdoor industry on equal footing with other industries that are currently measured by the BEA,” said Boian. “That’s the oil and gas industry, the agricultural industry, and the mining industry—other industries that use our public lands. This report will put the outdoor industry on equal footing.”
According to OIA’s latest Outdoor Recreation Economy report (2006), the outdoor industry generates $646 billion in consumer spending each year—which unofficially ranks the outdoor industry third in annual consumer spending—falling behind pharmaceuticals and motor vehicles and parts, and surpassing financial services and insurance.
Perhaps the most hopeful factor in the REC Act’s momentum, is the bipartisanship wrapped throughout the bill. The brainchild of Senator Cory Gardner (R, CO) and Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D, NH), the bill has seen overwhelming support across party lines—with sponsors including Republican and Democrat representatives from states with thriving outdoor recreation economies such as Colorado and Washington.
“One thing we’re thrilled about in the passage through the House is that it passed through with unanimous bipartisan support, which is unique in Washington these days,” said Boian. “That just demonstrates that the outdoor recreation economy and a thriving outdoor industry is something that brings Democrats and Republicans together.”
While Boian and the team at the Outdoor Industries Association are hopeful for the future of the REC Act, they’re not breaking out the champagne and party favors yet.
“Nothing in Congress is ever guaranteed, but we’re cautiously optimistic it will get through the Senate,” projects Boian. “Because it has this broad bipartisan support, we do think it will get through the Senate before they adjourn for the holidays.”
With questions still looming in the outdoor industry following this month’s historic election, the passing of the Outdoor REC Act would mark a positive step forward for bipartisan support in Washington D.C. and the solidification of public lands and the great outdoors as a valued part of this always-changing nation.