President Joe Biden took a victory lap Tuesday as he touted sweeping new measures to conserve U.S. lands and waters, including the designation of two much-anticipated national monuments.
“It’s a good day,” the president told a crowd of lawmakers, tribal leaders, conservationists and others at the Interior Department’s Washington headquarters for an event the White House dubbed a conservation summit.
Biden and some of his top energy and environment officials heralded the new monuments and touted the administration’s conservation during its first two years on the job.
“Our natural wonders are literally the envy of the world,” Biden said. “They’ve always been, and they always will be. They’re central to our heritage as a people, and they’re central to our identity as a nation.”
Biden designated two new national monuments: the Avi Kwa Ame National Monument in southern Nevada and the Castner Range National Monument in West Texas. The president also directed the Commerce secretary to consider creating a massive new marine sanctuary southwest of Hawaii (Greenwire, March 21).
“I want you to know it’s a big deal,” Biden said of the Avi Kwa Me monument (pronounced Ah-VEE kwa-meh). Biden received some help with the pronunciation from the crowd.
“I just know it as Spirit Mountain in Nevada,” Biden said. “It’s one of our most beautiful landscapes. It ties together one of the largest continuous wildlife corridors in the United States.” It’s a site of “sacred lands that are central to the creation story of so many tribes who have been here since time immemorial.”
Now, Biden added, “it can be recognized for the significance it holds and be preserved forever.”
Nevada lawmakers were in the crowd Tuesday to celebrate Biden’s announcement, including Democratic Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen, and Rep. Dina Titus (D).
The president also praised the new Castner Range National Monument in Texas. “It tells the story of the tribal nations who live there and the members of our armed forces who trained in those lands. It’s also a place of incredible beauty,” Biden said.
He joked to Rep. Veronica Escobar — a Texas Democrat who has pushed for the Castner Range designation — “Now, I hope you’ll still have reason to call me because you call me a lot on this one.”
Hawaii lawmakers were also in the crowd as the administration announced that it’s considering a new sanctuary designation to protect all U.S. waters around the Pacific Remote Islands. If completed, that would ensure that the Biden administration meets its goal of conserving at least 30 percent of ocean waters under U.S. jurisdiction by 2030, according to the White House.
The administration also announced its ocean climate action plan, a report that identifies ocean conservation priorities. And the White House Council on Environmental Quality announced new guidance for federal agencies about how to factor wildlife corridors into their decisions.
“We have a lot to celebrate, and we have a lot to look forward to,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said Tuesday. She thanked the crowd for “being champions for conservation” and for “holding us accountable.”
Biden’s moves won accolades from tribal groups, public lands advocates and environmentalists, but congressional Republicans are pledging increased oversight.
“After taking flak from the far left on their Willow decision in Alaska last week, the Biden administration is clearly feeling the need to do damage control,” said Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.), chair of the House Natural Resources Committee. Westerman was referring to the Biden administration’s approval last week of ConocoPhillips’ Willow drilling project in the Alaskan Arctic, which angered some of the president’s allies.
“This sweeping action limits access to public lands and waters without the proper input from Congress or local communities,” Westerman added. “I intend to request a full account from DOI on what went into these rushed and seemingly politically motivated decisions.”