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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release October 12, 1996
                             TO THE NATION   
                            The Oval Office

8:38 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. Today is Columbus Day, marking the day an Italian explorer came upon the new world. It's a day that holds special significance and much pride for Italian-Americans, Spanish- and Hispanic-Americans, and all Americans who dare to dream and reach for new horizons. All of these people have shaped who we are, and today we all celebrate their contributions.

We can only imagine the beauty of the land the explorers found. In the centuries since as we grew, our environment and resources often paid a price. Some have been depleted, destroyed, endangered, and some, thankfully, have been preserved, restored and replenished. This doesn't just happen. Every generation must work to ensure that the next generation can enjoy the blessings of America and clean air and pure water. We must work to pass upon to our children the earth that God gave us.

In just a few moments, I'll sign into law a bill to help us protect our environment, the Water Resources Development Act. With me here in the Oval Office is someone who has devoted much of his life to a better environment, our Vice President, Al Gore. I'd like him to tell you what this bill will do.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Mr. President, and thank you for your leadership in protecting America's air, water and public lands. Earlier this year, I visited Florida's Everglades National Park and walked along the Anhinga Trail with students from a local school. We saw some amazing sites, graceful wading birds, brilliant plants and flowers, even a few alligators. It was a glorious day, in a spectacular place, and, on that day, I announced President Clinton's commitment to restore and preserve the Florida Everglades.

Today, we take the next step in that effort. While we have much further to go, today we move closer to making sure that The Everglades are everlasting. The bill the President is about to sign will do a number of important things. It advances this administration's commitment to save The Everglades and Florida Bay by ensuring clean and abundant water. Through this plan, we can save the heart of The Everglades. We can once again see that heart pulse with water.

The bill also strengthens the relationship between the federal government and the State of Florida. It recognizes that federal and state governments must work in tandem, but, of course, there is more to do and all who benefit from The Everglades bear this responsibility. Each of us must do our part.

Finally, the bill gives the Army Corps of Engineers new tools and authority to protect our nation's water resources, not just in Florida, but throughout the United States. This legislation doesn't finish the job of Everglades restoration but it is another important step forward, a commitment to Florida's future, an investment in the state's economy and the nation's environmental legacy.

Thank you, Mr. President, for your leadership and commitment to preserving all of our American treasures.

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Mr. Vice President.

This new law reflects our commitment to manage wisely our nation's water resources and preserve the environment even as we balance the budget, but our work is not done. Today, I am also announcing my intention to sign the parks bill which Congress has approved. This bill will create or improve almost 120 national parks, trails, rivers, or historical sites in 41 of our states. It will preserve the historic Presidio, a former army post in San Francisco, by creating a non-profit trust to run it as a national park.

This bill will save the Sterling Forest on the New York and New Jersey border, just 40 miles from midtown Manhattan where families go for recreation and which millions of people depend upon for clean water. This forest was denuded a century ago by industry, but it grew back and we must protect it.

This bill will help to restore 11,000 acres of the tall grass prairie in Kansas, an ecosystem of grass as tall as nine feet, trees, flowers, birds, and other wildlife. This bill will bring back other overlooked natural sites all around our nation.

These are our national treasures. When we maintain our national parks, nourish our wildlife refuges, protect our water, and preserve places like The Everglades, we are standing up for our values and our future, and that is something all Americans can be proud of. God created these places but it is up to us to care for them. Now we are and we're doing it the right way, by working together.

I'm pleased that Congress turned aside confrontation to enact these laws in a bipartisan manner and in the public interest. Five hundred years ago, no one could have imagined the greatness that would bloom between our shores, nor foreseen that the nation born here would become the model for people of all kinds working together for the common good. Preserving our environment and restoring its wonders are for our common good.

Let us truly celebrate this day as a day of rediscovery, a day in which we pledge to keep working across the lines that divide us to make America more beautiful and better than ever. Thanks for listening. Now I will sign the Water Resources Development Act.

(The bill is signed.) (Applause.)

END 8:44 A.M. EDT