National Press Club

Babbitt: Radicals in Congress waging shadow war on environment

June 8, 2011 | By Terry Hill |

Former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt

Former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt

Photo/Image: Noel St. John

Former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt today accused “radicals” in Congress of waging a shadow war against the nation’s wilderness areas and called on President Barack Obama to gird for battle against increasing assaults on the environment at a June 8 Newsmaker.

“It is clear to me that the House of Representatives will not only block progress but will continue to sustain an assault on our public lands and water,” he said, urging the president to act more forcefully to aid the cause of conservation.

Babbitt, a popular former Arizona governor and unsuccessful 1988 Democratic Party presidential candidate, served two terms in the Clinton administration as interior secretary.

During his tenure, he fostered the National Landscape Conservation System, a program that created numerous national monuments and conservation areas under the Bureau of Land Management.

In an address laced with battle references such as “declared war,” “salvos,” “attacks,” and “adversaries,” Babbitt repeatedly labeled House Republicans as radicals who are using the cover of the budget process to begin dismantling U.S. environmental laws. At one point, he even invoked the Civil War and its nullification crisis.

“Failure to respond…is a form of appeasement that has not worked in the past and will not work this time,” he warned. “Our adversaries prefer to operate in the shadows, outside the sunshine generated by public knowledge and participation.”

Calling the 112th Congress the most radical in history, he charged that a pattern of a broad, sustained assault on nearly all environmental laws is beginning to emerge.

“The intent is to chip away, a blow at a time, at the edifice of environmental laws and regulations, avoiding a frontal assault that would call attention to the overall objective,” Babbitt said.

Evidence can be easily seen in efforts to revise the Antiquities Act of 1906 and the 1964 Wilderness Act, he asserted. The House attempted to “gut” the former in April and the latter is under attack by “radical leaders” of that body who are relentlessly chipping away at it, Babbitt said.

Babbitt said Obama should emerge from his silence and rally supporters in Congress to expand the National Wilderness Preservation System, reminding lawmakers that he can use his power to sidestep their efforts by designating threatened areas as national monuments.

Babbitt even selected the site of the first engagement. He said Alaska’s Bristol Bay could be permanently cut off from oil and gas exploration if the president properly wields the Antiquities Act in its defense.