(Bloomberg) -- President Joe Biden established two new national monuments and ordered a government review that could significantly expand protected waters around remote Pacific Ocean islands, as he looks to burnish his record on conservation after approving an oil drilling project in Alaska.
“When we conserve our country’s natural gifts, we’re not just protecting the livelihoods of people who depend on them, like the family farms, outdoor recreation businesses, rural communities,” Biden said at the White House Conservation in Action Summit at the Department of the Interior on Tuesday. “We’re protecting the heart and the soul of our national pride.”
“Our country’s natural treasures define our identity as a nation. They’re a birthright,” he said. “They’re a birthright we have to pass down to generation after generation.”
Biden created the Avi Kwa Ame National Monument in Nevada, which protects a sacred site for Native Americans, including the Fort Mojave tribe. Avi Kwa Ame, or Spirit Mountain in Mojave, is in the southern corner of the state, near the borders of Arizona and California.
The new Castner Range National Monument near El Paso, Texas, extends protections to an ancestral home of the Comanche and Apache that was subsequently used as a training ground for the military, according to a White House fact sheet.
Together, these national monuments protect more than a half-million-acres.
Biden is also directing Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo to consider creating a new national marine sanctuary that would protect 777,000 square miles of US waters around islands in the central Pacific. The president wants Raimondo to initiate the effort within the next 30 days, suggesting such a project would likely be fast-tracked for approval.
“That’s an area larger than the Alaska and Colorado put together and three times the size of Texas. That’s no small amount of land underground,” Biden said. “It would make it the largest ocean area on the planet with the highest level of protection.”
The plan, the announcement of which was met with thunderous applause from the audience, would help the White House reach its goals of conserving at least 30% of US ocean waters by 2030.
The event highlights the difficult balancing act Biden has faced between conservation and energy needs. Earlier this month, the White House announced that Biden was blocking oil leasing in Arctic waters and would propose other limits in Alaska — while also authorizing the ConocoPhillips’s Willow oil project in the state. Willow could unlock an estimated 600 million barrels of crude.
Last week, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland defended the move, saying the approval of the Alaska project was rooted in decisions “inherited” from previous administrations.
Read more: Haaland Nods to Clean-Energy Challenges After Alaska Oil Uproar
--With assistance from Jennifer A. Dlouhy and Jordan Fabian.
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