Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and distinguished members of the committee. I am honored to appear before you today as President-elect Bush's nominee for secretary of the interior. I am pleased to have this opportunity to talk with you and to answer any questions that you might have.
I am glad to have this chance to tell you something about the goals that President-elect Bush and I share, and which we hope to achieve, if you see fit to confirm me as secretary of the interior.
As you all know, America is a land of singular beauty. Americans are proud of the many exquisite natural treasures within our shores. President-elect Bush believes, as I do, that the top priority of the Department of the Interior must be to conserve those natural treasures.
One of President-elect Bush's priorities is to protect our national park system. We plan to return scientists to our parks and work with Congress to eliminate the major maintenance backlogs that have been obstacles to resource protection, and to do that within five years.
This initiative would help restore our national parks and ensure a positive legacy of protecting our cultural, natural and recreational treasures for Americans today and in the future.
The great wild places and unspoiled landscapes of this country are the common heritage of all Americans and we must both conserve them and manage them for Americans living today and for the Americans of the future, our children and our children's children. That is our goal.
I don't think any of us here today would disagree on that goal. In that, I believe, lies the basis for common ground. We have the opportunity for bipartisan environmental cooperation and leadership.
I've worked for more than 20 years on environmental issues. I'm proud of my accomplishments. Preserving endangered species. Cleaning up mountain valleys polluted by mining. Working to convert the Rocky Mountain Arsenal from a place polluted by pesticides and nerve gas residues to a wildlife refuge.
Based on these experiences, I am firmly committed to a process of consultation and collaboration. We should listen to all voices and involve all citizens. That is fair.
It is also wise. People are a magnificent resource for ideas, for knowledge, for insights.
I've lived and worked here in Washington. I've also lived and worked in the great American West. Those of us here in Washington need to be good partners with Americans living in other parts of this country and in our territories.
America is a stronger nation because of the diversity of its people. These people hold many different views and perspectives. We need to work with them, to involve them, to benefit from their creativity and their capacity to innovate.
One top priority that I want to mention to you today concerns the special responsibilities of the secretary of the interior with regard to American Indians. I think we should all recognize that the situation in Indian Country is not as it should be. There is much that I believe we can do in partnership with our nation's proud Native American tribes to improve conditions and provide a more hopeful future.
President-elect Bush has said many times that he will leave no child behind. To accomplish that requires that we improve the schools that serve more than 50,000 Native American children. A good education is the key to a better life for any child, whether that child lives in Washington, D.C., or Miami, Florida, or on a reservation in New Mexico.
Recognizing the historic relationship of the federal government and Native American tribal governments, I will work very hard to achieve real results for every Indian child.
President-elect Bush has proposals to build conservation partnerships to help states, local communities and private land owners to conserve wildlife habitat, watersheds and open space. I'm excited by the chance to work together on these proposals. Working together, there is much that we can do to promote conservation in the United States.
Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, I will be candid in telling you that I am both a conservative and a conservationist. I see no conflict there. In fact, I am a compassionate conservative and a passionate conservationist. I believe that, too, is entirely consistent.
If confirmed as secretary of the interior, I intend to make the conservation of America's natural resources my top priority. Using consultation and collaboration, forging partnerships with interested citizens, we can succeed in our effort to conserve America's most precious places. What's more, we can achieve this while maintaining America's prosperity and economic dynamism, while respecting constitutional rights and nurturing diverse traditions and cultures.
It won't always be easy. It will require a lot of hard work and the willingness to be creative, to think outside the usual boxes.
That is the mission that President-elect Bush has asked me to undertake. With your help, your wisdom and your cooperation, I believe that we can succeed.
Thank you very much.
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