Office of the Press Secretary
Today I have signed into law H.R. 4236, the "Omnibus Parks and Public Lands Management Act of 1996," a comprehensive bill addressing the management of the Nation's invaluable national parks, forests, and other natural resources.
I am pleased the Congress passed this legislation with bipartisan support in both Houses and has removed numerous provisions to which my Administration strongly objected.
The Act will create or improve almost 120 national parks, trails, rivers, or historical sites in 41 of our States. As President Teddy Roosevelt said: "[t]he nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased, not impaired, in value." This Act will help ensure that we follow that advice and protect for the next generation some of our most valuable natural and historical resources.
One of the most important provisions that my Administration supported would improve the management of the Presidio in San Francisco. This military post, dating from 1776, includes both beautiful open spaces appropriate for National Park Service management and hundreds of unused buildings requiring a more innovative approach. This Act establishes a government corporation, known as the Presidio Trust, to refurbish and lease these buildings quickly and efficiently, but in a manner consistent with overall park management requirements.
Another laudable provision authorizes appropriations of $17.5 million to help the New York-New Jersey Palisades Interstate Park Commission to acquire lands within the Sterling Forest Reserve, just 40 miles from midtown Manhattan. This is one of the last areas of pristine forest in the Northeast and the area is critical for supplying safe drinking water to northern New Jersey.
I am also pleased that the Act establishes the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in Kansas. The North American Continent was once covered by over 400,000 square miles of tallgrass prairie. Today, less than 1 percent remains. This Act will help to restore 11,000 acres of tallgrass prairie, an ecosystem of grass as tall as 9 feet, and includes trees, flowers, birds and other wildlife. This ecosystem is nationally significant and the Preserve is a welcome addition to the National Park System.
My Administration supports many other provisions in this omnibus legislation, including designation of 10 separate nonfederal national heritage areas in Virginia, West Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, South Carolina, Iowa, Ohio, and New York. Other provisions would help to preserve the Nation's cultural heritage by authorizing memorials, protecting historic areas, designating the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail in Alabama, and authorizing the establishment of a Martin Luther King, Jr., memorial in the District of Columbia.
This Act also includes scores of park boundary adjustments, land exchanges, and provisions to assist agencies in protecting national parks, forests, and public lands.
At the same time, the bill deletes almost all of the provisions of the earlier conference agreement that my Administration had found objectionable. These provisions include those that would have adversely affected the Tongass National Forest in Alaska, the Shenandoah National Park and Richmond Battlefields National Park in Virginia, the Sequoia National Park in California, and other national parks and Federal lands. Unfortunately, the Act still includes a ew objectionable provisions. Among them is a provision that changes the status of about 70 acres of fragile land that was previously protected as part of the Coastal Barrier Resources System. Prior to my signing of the Act this land could only be developed at private expense. Now, this land will be eligible for Federal development subsidies in the form of infrastructure funding and flood insurance. The taxpayer should not bear the risk of development in these damage-prone areas, and my Administration will strongly resist any similar legislative efforts in the future. In addition, several provisions exempt specific land transactions from environmental laws. Where these provisions allow, my Administration will work to complete the transactions in full compliance with our environmental laws.
I must also note that two sections of the Act require careful construction and application to avoid violating the Appointments Clause of the Constitution. First, to avoid an unconstitutional limitation on the President's power to appoint officers, I will regard the limitations on my ability to make appointments to the Board of Directors of the Presidio Trust as advisory. The second issue involves officers of the National Park Service (NPS). To avoid an unconstitutional congressional removal of an officer, I will not construe the Act to require that the current NPS Director be subjected to the new appointment process established by the bill. Further, appointments to the NPS Deputy Director positions created by the Act must be made in a manner consistent with the Appointments Clause in order for them to exercise significant governmental authority.
As I said on September 29th following House passage of this legislation, this is not a perfect bill. But overall, the Act represents a significant step forward in the conservation and management of our national parks and other Federal lands for the benefit of this and future generations.
I am pleased to sign H.R. 4236 into law.
WILLIAM J. CLINTON