President Barack Obama on Monday signed into law a bill setting aside more than 2 million acres of new wilderness and protecting more than 1,000 miles of rivers.
Flanked by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Congressional leaders at an East Room signing ceremony in the White House, Obama said the measure had been decades in the making.
As Americans, we possess few blessings greater than the vast and varied landscapes that stretch the breadth of our continent, Obama said. Our lands have always provided great bounty -- food and shelter for the first Americans, for settlers and pioneers; the raw materials that grew our industry; the energy that powers our economy.
He added, What these gifts require in return is our wise and responsible stewardship. As our greatest conservationist President, Teddy Roosevelt, put it almost a century ago, 'I recognize the right and duty of this generation to develop and use the natural resources of our land; but I do not recognize the right to waste them, or to rob, by wasteful use, the generations that come after us.'
The bill, formally known as the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act of 2009, was the first piece of legislation passed by the Senate this year, Obama said, and it did so with broad, bipartisan support.
This legislation guarantees that we will not take our forests, rivers, oceans, national parks, monuments, and wilderness areas for granted; but rather we will set them aside and guard their sanctity for everyone to share, he said. That's something all Americans can support.
He added, Ranchers and fishermen, small business owners, environmentalists, conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats on the local, state and federal levels -- all united around the idea that there should be places that we must preserve; all doing the hard work of seeking common ground to protect the parks and other places that we cherish.
The bill also seeks to address the challenges of global warming, particularly when it comes to water resources in the Southwest, Obama said.
This bill assesses how growth and climate change will affect our access to water resources, especially in the West and Southwest, and it includes solutions to complex and long-simmering water disputes, he said. It's hard to overstate the real and measurable impact this will have on people's lives.
But the bill also includes some provisions unrelated to lands, Obama noted, as it includes the Christopher and Dana Reeve's Paralysis Act.
This act creates new coordinated research activities through the National Institutes of Health that will connect the best minds and best practices from the best labs in the country, and focus their endeavors through collaborative scientific research into the cure for paralysis, saving effort, money, and, most importantly, time, Obama said.
He added, It promotes enhanced rehabilitation services for paralyzed Americans, helping develop better equipment and technology that will allow them to live full and independent lives free from unnecessary barriers. And it will work to improve the quality of life for all those who live with paralysis, no matter what the cause.
The bill's passage was swiftly hailed by Democratic Leaders in the House and Senate.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who attended the signing ceremony, noted that 700,000 acres of protected wilderness were in her home state.
This landmark legislation will conserve public lands for future generations and includes numerous water-related provisions that will help manage drought, particularly in the West, improve aging infrastructure, recharge groundwater supplies, and promote the reuse and recycling of water, she said in a written statement. Today is a great day for all who care about our beautiful country and its pristine natural heritage.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who also attended the ceremony and was given a hug by Salazar before Obama took to the stage, also cheered the signing of the law.
Preserving these public lands is now the law of the land, and will go a long way toward protecting our environment and natural resources for generations to come,
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