Former Interior chief slams Obama's 'silence' on conservation

President Obama has failed to adequately protect the country’s land and water resources from Republican attacks, former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt said Wednesday.

Babbitt, who headed the Interior Department under former President Clinton, called on Obama to stand up to congressional Republicans, who he said have “simply declared war on our land, water and natural resources.”

“It is imperative that President Obama take up the mantle of land and water conservation — something that he has not yet done in a significant way,” Babbitt, a Democrat, told reporters Wednesday. “President Obama and the executive branch are the best, and likely only, hope for meaningful progress on this critical issue.”

Babbitt took aim at a series of riders incorporated into a government-spending bill that was signed into law by Obama earlier this year. He specifically blasted language delisting the gray wolf as an endangered species and blocking funding for Interior’s “wild lands” policy, which would protect certain public lands.

Republicans slammed the “wild lands” policy, arguing it was an effort to circumvent Congress’s authority and raising fears that it could be used to make lands off-limits to oil-and-gas drilling. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said this month that Interior will not enforce the policy because of the rider included in the spending bill.

“The president should not have allowed the rider to go through,” said Babbitt, who also served as governor of Arizona in the 1980s.

Obama has turned a blind eye to efforts by Republicans to roll back the country’s environmental and conservation laws, Babbitt said.

“We’re three years into this administration and we haven’t heard a strong conservation voice,” Babbitt said. “This silence is going to yield some very bitter fruit if it continues.”

Babbitt suggested Obama hasn’t waded into conservation issues because he wants to avoid another political fight with Republicans.

“These issues cause controversy,” he said. “Controversy is to be avoided at all costs because it’s not good politically.”

Obama has “the power, the responsibility and the public support to stand up to those who would destroy our natural and cultural heritage,” Babbitt said.

“Mr. President, America’s great outdoors is under attack as never before,” Babbitt said. “We need you to stand up to this assault as only the president can. You will have the lasting gratitude of the American people for generations to come.”