Obama: Conservation boosts economy

President Obama said Friday that wilderness conservation provides both an environmental and economic lift to the country.

“We're not just preserving our land and water for the next generation, we are also making more land available for hunting and fishing, and we are bolstering an outdoor economy that supports more than nine million jobs and brings in more than a trillion dollars a year,” Obama said Friday evening at a White House conservation conference held at the Interior Department.

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Land conservation has been the stuff of both bipartisan agreements and battles in recent years.

Obama signed a major wilderness bill in late March of 2009, which passed with bipartisan support, that included designation of new National Park Service units and other new conservation areas.

But more recently, in 2011, Republicans blocked an Interior Department initiative to preserve certain lands that have not received an official wilderness designation from Congress.

Obama, in the speech, said that having to choose between environmental protection and growing the economy is a “false choice,” and also touted administration efforts to develop renewable energy on public lands.

“But while it is important to use public lands to develop things like wind and solar energy and reduce our dependence on foreign oil, we have also got to focus on protecting our planet, and that is why Teddy Roosevelt made sure that as we build this country and harvest its bounty, we also protect its beauty. That is part of our national character, and historically it has been bipartisan,” he said at the conference.

Administration officials have made a series of announcements on conservation in recent days.

They include Friday’s Agriculture Department announcement of plans to help farmers protect an additional million acres of grasslands and wetlands through the Conservation Reserve Program.

On Wednesday the Interior Department announced creation of the “National Water Trails System” to increase water-based recreation and stewardship.

Obama, in the speech, also touted recent Environmental Protection Agency rules to curb mercury and other air toxics emissions from coal-fired power plants, a regulation that many Republicans say will burden the economy and are seeking to scuttle.

“When we put in place new common-sense rules to reduce air pollution, like we did in December, it was to prevent our kids from breathing in dangerous chemicals,” Obama said. “That's something we should all be able to agree on. But it will also create new jobs, building and installing all sorts of pollution control technology.”