From his coastal vacation spot, President Clinton today directed federal agencies to boost efforts to clean up beaches and waterways, and he chastised congressional Republicans for proposing cuts in some of the environmental initiatives in his fiscal year 2000 budget.
For the fourth consecutive day, Clinton and his wife did not leave the secluded 7,500-acre recreation and wildlife preserve where they are vacationing in Florida's northeastern-most corner. Recording his weekly radio address from the site, the president directed the National Park Service to expand its monitoring of water quality at national beaches. He also told the Environmental Protection Agency to propose within a year "a new national rule to prevent overflows from sewage systems," a major cause of beach closures.
Clinton said the visit to the nature preserve "reminds us once again what a gift it is to spend time outdoors, to walk among tall trees, to see wild animals and rare birds, to watch the sun set and the stars come out over a beautiful river." The holiday weekend, he said, is an appropriate time to redouble efforts to safeguard beaches and other natural features.
He instructed the Park Service "to expand water quality monitoring along thousands of miles of federal beaches -- including the Cape Cod, Cape Hatteras and Point Reyes National Seashores -- to identify pollution sources and protect beach-goers from potential health hazards." The EPA is to "work with states to strengthen public health protections at other beaches." The president also called on "all federal agencies to adopt a comprehensive strategy to better safeguard rivers and other bodies of water on federal lands."
Clinton said his budget proposal to Congress "contains historic investments to improve the quality of life" through various environmental initiatives. But he said Congress's Republican leaders "just released spending guidelines that would impose drastic cuts in environmental protection and public health." Republicans, who say Clinton's budget would exceed spending guidelines, want a greater emphasis on other programs, including the military.
In the Republican response, New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman used the Memorial Day weekend to appeal for money to increase military readiness and to help veterans. "Downsizing our defense is a risk our nation cannot afford," she said, adding: "At a time when we are committing our forces to difficult and dangerous missions abroad, we cannot and must not fail to care for those who suffer the scars of service."
Since Wednesday, the president and first lady have been reading, walking and biking at the White Oak Plantation, a private compound established by a paper manufacturing magnate and now run by a foundation. From a van, the two have enjoyed close encounters with some of the exotic denizens, including giraffes, a cheetah and baby rhino, said White House press secretary Joe Lockhart. One giraffe is so tame that the Clintons were able to pet and feed it, he said.
The couple will participate in a closed session on centrist Democratic politics -- sponsored by the Progressive Policy Institute -- on Sunday evening before flying back to Washington.
While the president has golfed here each day, Hillary Rodham Clinton has spent some of her time phoning Democratic activists in New York state, where she is considering a U.S. Senate bid. White House aides say the Clintons are likely to spend their main summer vacation -- in mid- or late August -- either in New York's Adirondack Mountains or Shelter Island.