Obama to create largest national monument of his presidency

President Obama on Wednesday will designate nearly half a million acres in New Mexico as a national monument, the latest in a series of executive actions intended to improve environmental protections of federal lands.

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The president will sign a proclamation establishing the Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument, the largest such designation of his presidency, during a ceremony at the Department of the Interior, the White House said Monday.

It will be the 11th time the president has established a national monument during his term, and the largest designation in terms of land mass during his presidency.

By contrast, former President George W. Bush established only four national monuments during his eight years in office.

The site will include areas used as training sites for the Apollo astronauts, as well as the Butterfield Overland Mail Trail, along which passengers and mail traveled toward San Francisco in the mid-1800s.

Press secretary Jay Carney touted the economic benefits of the designation, which is expected to boost tourism to the region.

"A recent, independent study found that a new national monument could generate $7.4 million in new economic activity annually from new visitors and business opportunities while preserving access for sportsmen, ranchers and recreational users," Carney said. "This signing is part of our larger weeklong focus on helping businesses invest here in America to further grow our economy and create jobs."

The president will press that case during a meeting Tuesday with business leaders at the White House and at an event at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., on Thursday.

But the White House might face a tough sell with New Mexico ranchers in the area, who have argued a nearly identical legislative proposal by the state's Democratic senators — Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich — was too expansive.

Obama's accelerated efforts on federal land protection coincide with the return of counselor and renowned environmentalist John Podesta — former chief of staff to President Clinton — to the White House.

After Republicans took control of Congress in 1994, Clinton used his executive authority to implement environmental protections for federal lands, including seven sites during his last month in office.