Joe Biden is establishing national monuments in Nevada and Texas and creating a marine sanctuary in US waters near the Pacific Remote Islands south-west of Hawaii.
The Democratic president is set to announce the measures on Tuesday at a White House summit on conservation action at the interior department.
Biden said in November that he intends to designate Avi Kwa Ame, a desert mountain in southern Nevada that’s considered sacred to Native Americans, as a national monument. The site spans more than 500,000 acres (202,000 hectares) and includes Spirit Mountain, a peak north-west of Laughlin called Avi Kwa Ame by the Fort Mojave Tribe and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The rugged landscape near the Arizona and California state lines is home to bighorn sheep, desert tortoises and a large concentration of Joshua trees, some of which are more than 900 years old.
In Texas, Biden plans to create the Castner Range national monument in El Paso. The designation will protect the cultural, scientific and historic objects found within the monument’s boundaries, honor US veterans, service members and tribal nations, and expand access to outdoor recreation on public lands, the White House said.
Located on Fort Bliss, Castner Range served as a training and testing site for the US army during the second world war, the Korean war and the Vietnam war. The army ceased training at the site and closed Castner Range in 1966.
Together, the two new national monuments protect nearly 514,000 acres (208,000 hectares) of public lands.
In the Pacific, Biden will direct the commerce department to consider initiating a new national marine sanctuary designation within 30 days to protect all US waters around the Pacific Remote Islands. If completed, the new sanctuary would help ensure the US reaches Biden’s goal to conserve at least 30% of ocean waters under US jurisdiction by 2030, the White House said.
Biden’s actions come as he faces sharp criticism from environmental groups and youth activists over his approval of the huge Willow oil drilling project in Alaska.
Biden has made fighting global warming a central part of his agenda, and White House officials have defended efforts to put the United States on track to meet Biden’s goal to cut planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030.
But the decision on Willow has alienated supporters, particularly young activists skeptical about political compromise at the same time Biden is planning to announce his re-election campaign.
Climate activists are expected to gather outside the interior department on Tuesday to condemn what they call Biden’s “climate hypocrisy” and demand the administration change course on Willow.
The Willow Project has garnered global attention in recent weeks as a #stopwillow campaign went viral across social media platforms, most notably gaining more than 600m views on TikTok and amassing more than 4m signatures on a Change.org petition, making it one of the most popular petitions in the website’s history.
White House officials have acknowledged the indignation among Biden’s supporters over Willow but emphasized that the oil giant ConocoPhillips has held leases in that area of Alaska for decades, which strengthens the Houston-based company’s legal right to drill.
Environmental groups have already sued in a renewed effort to block Willow.
“Biden has the authority to revoke the Willow approval, withhold permits for further fossil fuel projects and phase out federal fossil fuel production on public lands and waters,’’ said Cassidy DiPaola, a spokesperson for People Vs Fossil Fuels, a coalition of groups pressing Biden to end oil drilling and other fossil fuel projects.
Biden designated his first national monument, in Colorado, last year. In 2021, he restored the boundaries for Bears Ears national monument in Utah after they were significantly narrowed by Donald Trump, a Republican.
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