Jimmy Carter photo

Remarks on Signing Into Law the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act

December 02, 1980

THE PRESIDENT. I see this simple little bill lying on the table here. [Laughter]

This is indeed a proud day for me and for the Congress and for all of you who've worked so hard to help create and enact this legislation. To Mo Udall, to John Seiberling, to Senator Jackson, to Phil Burton, Paul Tsongas—who can't be here today because of the death of his father-Alan Cranston, Ted Stevens, to the Alaska coalition, not to be confused with the entire Alaska delegation— [laughter] both of which deserve credit for the passage of the legislation, and for Secretary Andrus and others, I am deeply grateful.

For nearly a quarter of a century, really, since even before 1958, thousands of dedicated Americans have worked for this historic moment. The bill before me now, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, without a doubt is one of the most important pieces of conservation legislation ever passed in this Nation. I was going over this morning early the comparison between what this bill is and the original administration proposal that we submitted to the Congress, and they are remarkably similar. Never before have we seized the opportunity to preserve so much of America's natural and cultural heritage on so grand a scale.

We are setting aside for conservation an area of land larger than the State of California. By designating more than 97 million acres for new parks and refuges, we are doubling the size of our National Park and Wildlife Refuge System. By protecting 25 free-flowing Alaskan rivers in their natural state, we are almost doubling the size of our Wild and Scenic Rivers System. By classifying 56 million acres of some of the most magnificent land in our Federal estate as wilderness, we are tripling the size of our Wilderness System.

We've preserved the unparalleled beauty of areas like the Misty Fiords and Admiralty Island National Monuments in southeast Alaska. And we've ensured that Alaska's Eskimos and Indians and Aleuts can continue their traditional way of life. And we've given the State of Alaska, finally, the opportunity to choose the land which will be theirs through eternity.

I've been fortunate. I've seen firsthand some of the splendors of Alaska. But many Americans have not. Now, whenever they or their children or their grandchildren choose to visit Alaska, they'll have the opportunity to see much of its splendid beauty undiminished and its majesty untarnished.

This act of Congress reaffirms our commitment to the environment. It strikes a balance between protecting areas of great beauty and value and allowing development of Alaska's vital oil and gas and mineral and timber resources. A hundred percent of the offshore areas and 95 percent of the potentially productive oil and mineral areas will be available for exploration or for drilling. With this bill we are acknowledging that Alaska's wilderness areas are truly this country's crown jewels and that Alaska's resources are treasures of another sort. How to tap these resources is a challenge that we can now face in the decade ahead.

As a nation, we have been blessed with an abundance of natural resources. We've also been blessed with an abundance of natural wonders—from the Grand Canyon to the gates of the Arctic, from the Everglades to Yellowstone—we're only just now learning how to use the one without abusing the other. We must not let the pressures of the day interfere with these efforts to enhance the quality of our lives. We cannot let our eagerness for progress in energy and in technology outstrip our care for our land, for our water and for air, and for the plants and animals that share all of these precious vital resources with us. Every time we dig out minerals or drill wells, every time we ignore erosion or destroy a sand dune or dam a wild river or dump garbage or create pollution, we're changing the living Earth.

Sometimes this change might be beneficial, but we should always change the world in which we live with great care. We are affecting the air we breathe and the water we drink. We have nothing more precious than life itself, nothing more valuable to us than health. We must not forfeit these in the pursuit of progress. We must face the fact that these threats to the quality of life will mount inexorably in the years ahead.

We've tried to look forward to the year 2000, and we've been very concerned at what we've seen. We must face the fact that these threats to the quality of life will perhaps be the greatest challenges which this Nation must face. None of us can afford to relax our vigilance, and we certainly cannot afford to rely on government alone to be vigilant for us. Each of us has a responsibility to the environment that nurtures all of us.

Years ago, Americans used to feel secure surrounded by wide oceans, but today, we have a different world view and different kinds of oceans to contemplate. Today, we know that all of us, the globe over, belong to the same, very small world, adrift in the vast areas of space. We see more clearly that we have a duty—to ourselves and to our descendants, to the environment and to the world itself—to conserve, to preserve, to use, but to think before we act, and always to care.

We Americans have a history of viewing the environment as wilderness and wilderness as something that must be conquered. But we must never forget that as vast and dark and forbidding as the forests may seem, they are very fragile; and as wide and as boundless as the oceans may seem, they're quite vulnerable. For all that the Earth has given us, we owe it our respect and, more importantly, our understanding. We're the stewards of an irreplaceable environment. That's an awesome task as well as a precious gift.

In the decade past we've worked hard to build strong programs to protect the environment and, where there was damage, to clean our skies and waterways. We have made some progress. It has not been easy. Human greed is not an easy foe to conquer. As Governor and as President, this has been one of my most difficult political challenges, and throughout my life in the future, it's a challenge that I will continue to meet.

In the last 4 years, we've strengthened the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts and the Coastal Zone Management Act. We've established strict Federal environmental standards for coal mining, provided for better control of pesticides and toxic chemicals. We have at least continued our protection of endangered species. Outside of Alaska, we've made vast additions to our National Park System. We've created new wilderness areas and designated new Wild and Scenic Rivers. We cannot afford to retreat from these efforts now. We cannot afford to look at the immediate financial profits and ignore the long-term costs of misusing the environment.

Protecting our environment also brings immediate results to our health and to the development of new technology, new areas of understanding, new knowledge that benefits us all. It brings us some financial costs as well, but these costs, compared to the benefits, are very modest indeed. The price of not protecting the environment would be far greater and far more lasting. Much of the damage cannot possibly be repaired at any price. We protect it today, or we lose it for all time.

In tackling our challenges—the problems of hazardous waste disposal and eroding beaches, extinction of plant and animal species, and human overpopulation-we have our forebears to emulate. When they came to these shores they faced challenges beyond any they had known previously, and they had to think and they had to fight their way through: Their success is our legacy now. Their triumphs and their mistakes have much to teach us.

We've learned the hard way, in some cases, that we cannot, without consequence, take from the land without giving. We've learned, too, that what we need as we enter the 1980's is the same thing the pioneers had when they first entered the wilderness of this country—determination, courage, daring.

We were determined to preserve portions of Alaska. Fifty-six million acres of that State can now stand pristine. We dared to act with foresight, instead of hindsight, and with an understanding that Alaska will help keep our Nation both energy-strong and environmentally rich.

As our descendants look back on the 1980's, I hope it will be said by them that we kept our commitment to the restoration of environmental quality; that we protected the public health from the continuing dangers of toxic chemicals, from pollution, from hazardous and radioactive wastes; that we put this Nation on a path to a sustainable energy future, one based increasingly on renewable resources and on the elimination of waste.

Let it be said that we moved to protect America's countryside, that this year, the Year of the Coast, was perhaps the turning point in protecting, finally, our coastland from mismanagement; that we redirected the management of the Nation's water resources toward water conservation and environmental protection; that we've faced squarely such worldwide problems as deforestation, acid rain, toxic waste disposal, carbon dioxide buildup, and nuclear proliferation.

That all of us have won so much in Alaska is all the more reason to continue our fight for our other environmental concerns. That we've struck a balance between Alaska's economic interests and its natural beauty, its industry and its ecology, is all the more reason to try now to strike similar balances elsewhere in our Nation. This act of Congress gives us both the knowledge and the impetus and inspiration.

For today, in closing, let me say, let us celebrate. The mountains that rim the Misty Fjords and rise above Admiralty Island, the tracks of man's past along the Bering Strait, the rivers and lakes that harbor salmon and trout, the game trails of caribou and grizzly in the Brooks Range, the marshes where our waterfowl summer—all these are now preserved, now and, I pray, for all time to come. I thank God that you have helped to make it possible for me to sign this bill.

After I sign the bill, I'd like to call on John Seiberling and Mo Udall and Scoop Jackson and Ted Stevens and Secretary Andrus to say a few words. But they will speak not only for me and our Nation but for all of you who've been so instrumental in this tremendous achievement.

Thank you very much.

[At this point, the President signed the bill.]

REPRESENTATIVE SEIBERLING. Mr. President and guests, as one who spent several months, in fact, several years on the long trail to this day, this is one of the great thrills of my life.

When I was in Alaska it occurred to me that there are very few places in this country where you can see vast sweeps of land and myriads of wildlife just as they were when the Creator made them. And to save part of that heritage that thrilled the pioneers of old required thinking big and thinking long. Many thousands of people worked on this legislation, but if there are any people who were absolutely indispensable to it, those people are President Carter and Cecil Andrus, and we are going to be eternally indebted to them.

I remember in 1977, in one of our village hearings, in the village of Togiak, Alaska, one of the old natives there said that if we fail to save the land, God may forgive us, but our children won't. Mr. President, our children will be eternally indebted to you.

REPRESENTATIVE UDALL. Where in the beck were all these folks out in Arizona when I needed it? [Laughter]

The fall of even-numbered years is hazardous for political figures and for football coaches, and I remember Winston Churchill, or some great thinker, maybe it was I— [laughter] —said the most exhilarating experience is to be shot at and missed. [Laughter] I remember, Mr. President, up in Fairbanks, last summer, they had a fair and exhibits and booths. And the Junior Chamber of Commerce got 2,000 empty beer bottles, and they had four pictures on the wall that you could pay a quarter and throw a beer bottle at-Jimmy Carter, Cecil Andrus, Mo Udall, and the Ayatollah—number one. [Laughter] And so here we are, just a couple of- [laughter] . They said 1 minute. I'll abuse it, but not very much.

Americans have been really poor judges of our contemporary Presidents, as witness the revival of Harry Truman in recent years—the Republicans have discovered him and his greatness. We've been pretty harsh on our contemporary Presidents, and I don't pretend to read history, but I'll tell you one thing: This President, Jimmy Carter, and his administration are going to rank big among the Presidents in conservation. No one has done more, no President has done more, with the possible exception of Theodore Roosevelt, to do things in conservation that need being done, and nobody can ever take that away from you, Mr. President.

I'm joyous. I'm glad today for the people of Alaska. They can get on with building a great State. They're a great people. And this matter is settled and put to rest, and the development of Alaska can go forward with balance. I feel a sense of joy for the American people who've waited a long time for this great day. And I'm happy about all of us that the conservation movement has been bipartisan over the years, going back to Roosevelt and Pinchot and all the great Presidents.

Einstein once said when congratulated on his scientific work, he said, "We all stand on the shoulders of great men of the past." And in bringing this legislation about, we ought to remember that there are people like John Saylor, who's no longer with us—our amendment in 1971 was Section D-2 of this bill; it was the Udall-Saylor Amendment—other good Interior Secretaries like Cecil Andrus, and one whose name I've forgotten, a relative of mine. [Laughter] But we ride on, we stand on the shoulders, as we make this great achievement, of some of the giants of the past, and I'm proud to be a part of it.

One of the things I like about my country, and there are a lot of them, is that we love the land. There's a deep feeling for the beaches and the mountains and the wilderness areas. We love the land, and we're going to protect the land. And I think the old song put it best: "This land is your land, this land is my land, from the redwood forests to the New York Island," and so on. "This land belongs to you and me." And that's what we've done here today. I'm proud to be a part of it.
Thank you very much.

SENATOR JACKSON. Thank you, Mr. President, and thank you, Cece, for the great leadership that you gave us in this long endeavor.

We're here as the result of a section that was placed in the Native Claims Settlement Act, all related to settling the issue with the Aleuts, the Eskimos, and the Indians of Alaska, and we put in a little section called D-2. And that's where the title came, D-2 of the Native Claims Settlement Act. That was 1971. It took 9 years of effort really to make this possible. And two things I think that stand out: One is perseverance, which was always present with humor—after all, without Mo Udall— [laughter] —.where would we be? But I think it's also a tribute to the best in the art of compromise, and with patience and compromise and bipartisanship, because Senator Stevens, in particular, stuck his neck out over and over again, kept us together on the Senate side, when it was said over and over again, "It's dead." And in all of this, we had the backing and the support of the President of the United States and Cece Andrus moving around the various offices when it was dead, only to be revived again.

So, this is a great day. It's not what everyone wanted on either side of the issue, but I believe it will be indeed a lasting monument in striking a balance between development on one hand, and preservation and conservation on the other. We salute you, Mr. President.

SENATOR STEVENS. Thank you very much, Mr. President, Mrs. Carter.

You're very gracious to offer me the opportunity to make some remarks here. They've got to be short, because I've got an election I hope to win in about 5 minutes if I'm going to be the Assistant Majority Leader next year. It starts at 10 o'clock, so I won't be long. [Laughter]

Mr. President, this is a historic bill. I want you to know that there are people at home, as Scoop Jackson has said, who believe that we've made a mistake. I'm one who's very proud of my State and proud of the heritage and its great attractions that have brought all of you to this room and have committed so many people to try and preserve a portion of Alaska. We have not disagreed on goals; we have disagreed on the means to attain those goals, and we've disagreed from the point of view of the half million people who live there 365 days a year trying to protect our rights when we see the avalanche of 225 million people who want to prevent us from making the mistakes that their predecessors made with regard to their lands.

We believe that the American system is one that evolves and that we can learn from mistakes of others. I do believe there's balance in this bill, because it will fulfill the commitment of the Statehood Act. And we will have to go into Alaskan ownership, an area, Mr. President, the size of California or a little bit larger, and the rights of our Alaskan native people will be protected by virtue of the additional amendments that are in this bill to the Alaskan Native Land Claims Settlement Act.

I'm indebted to my good friend Scoop Jackson and to Senator Hatfield, Mark Hatfield, and others who worked so long on our side to keep up this good humor and to keep us moving towards the goal of trying to get a bill that would fulfill our hopes and aspirations and meet the goals of all of you here. This bill did not do that for us, and I think for some of you, it didn't meet all of your goals either. So, we're not finished, Mr. President; we've just really started.

Over half of the Federal lands that will remain under the control of the Department of Interior will be in Alaska after the passage of this bill. Over half of the hydrocarbon resources of the United States are in Alaska's lands. We know that the time will come when those resources will be demanded by other Americans. And we seek to protect our freedoms, to try to prevent us from becoming a "permit society" where we have to have a permit to do everything; and at the same time, be able to contribute to the nation that we all love so well.

The other day, a friend of mine crashed an airplane in a national monument, Mr. President, and he was told that he better get that out of there. And then, when he started to get it out, he was told he couldn't get it out because he was going to use a helicopter to lift it out and he didn't have a permit to fly a helicopter in a national monument. Now, that may not seem to be oppressive to you, but to us, freedom is the essence of living on the frontier, and I've done my best to try and protect those freedoms with the help of all these gentlemen here, and I too congratulate you for a milestone in conservation legislation.


SECRETARY ANDRUS. Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen.

Mr. President, Mrs. Carter, distinguished Members of the Congress:

I will be brief so Ted can make his election. But I would hope, Mr. President, that we would recognize that in these times of need for energy and minerals that the American people have spoken through their elected Members of the Congress that, yes, they're concerned, but they are also concerned about the environment in which they live and that they feel that we too have to leave a legacy for future generations. And this we have done, Mr. President. At least they have the opportunity to make a difficult decision in the future if they must.

But we wouldn't be here today without the characteristic tenacity of yourself, Mr. President, and the total willingness of you to meet at any time and to work on this bill. There are many people in this room that deserve the credit, and if we started the list would be longer than the bill that the President just signed. But Mo Udall mentioned John Saylor. I think too of Lee Metcalf. I think too of my predecessor, Rogers Morton, and other people that have worked on this. Those three men are no longer with us, but I'm certain that they're looking down upon us today saying, "Well done," to the Congress of the United States, to the President, the executive branch, the people who've proven that you can collectively continue to resolve difficult problems.

We in America have spent too many years in salvage operations, protecting the last little remnant of redwoods or a short stretch of free-flowing river. Now, here in Alaska we have indeed done it the first time, and the Alaskan native that John Seiberling spoke of will not have to ask forgiveness of his grandchildren. They will be pleased. And so we're all proud today, those of us that are here, me, you, the audience. But I think the beneficiaries are those generations yet unborn who will have the opportunity to visit, as the President described, those unique areas.

I'm pleased to have been a part of it, Mr. President, and as history writes about this administration, I think it will be one of the hallmarks, of course, the landmark legislation that you helped pass. My appreciation goes to all those people that have worked with me. And in closing let me be just a tiny bit provincial in that obviously Bob Bergland's department, my department, the White House staff, congressional staff, everybody worked on it, but the Department of the Interior personnel worked long and hard, day and night, weekends, without time off, and I appreciate it.

Note: The President spoke at 9:34 a.m. at the signing ceremony in the East Room at the White House.

As enacted, H.R. 39 is Public Law 96—487, approved December 2.

Jimmy Carter, Remarks on Signing Into Law the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/251183

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