Conservation groups hailed Babbitt's remarks and said they hoped Obama would consider them as he ponders his environmental legacy.
Lands entrusted to the public provide more than just revenue, said Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development, a coalition of sportsmen's groups. Public lands "are a big part of our history, our heritage and identity," the group said.
Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, blasted Babbitt's remarks, saying his proposal was based on a false premise. About 37 million acres of BLM land have been leased for oil and gas development over the years, compared with 293 million acres that have been set aside for conservation, Bishop said.
"This disparity clearly favors conservation but also reinforces the fact that deserving places are already being protected," he said in a statement. "Instead of villainizing American energy developers, Secretary Babbitt should accept the fact that energy development, multiple use and conservation are not mutually exclusive activities."
Babbitt said after his speech that he is optimistic Obama will take his advice, adding that he was heartened by Obama's reference to the threat posed by climate change in his inaugural address.
"I think he's awakened to these issues," Babbitt said. "We're going to see more protection."
Babbitt said he had no inside information on Obama's likely choice to replace outgoing Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, but said he was satisfied with all of the names he has heard so far.
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