President Bush Thursday promoted his conservation budget at Oak Mountain State Park near Birmingham, Ala.
Bush argued for his proposal to give the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which finances state and federal efforts, an unprecedented $900 million.
The grant money Bush proposed is $340 million more than in the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.
The push in environmental spending by Bush comes just days after a New York Times/CBS poll conducted June 15-18 said only a third of Americans support the Bush energy plan and fewer than 40 percent support the president''s handling of the environment.
The poll and recent criticism from environmentalists over Bush policy didn''t have any effect on Bush as he assured Alabama residents that the environment was important to him.
"It''s the highest request in the Land and Water Conservation Fund''s history, and half of the money will go to the states, just like the authors of the law intended," Bush said. "And why is that important? ... Well, one, it''s a high environmental priority for me."
Bush continued, "I believe federal money is most useful when it comes without strings, when it comes without dictates. And so I believe we need to give states new flexibility on how to manage their conservation and resources."
But environmental groups like the Sierra club downplayed Bush''s announcement, saying the president is just playing ''bait and switch'' with conservation funds.
"While President Bush is claiming his budget fully funds the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the Bush administration is actually cutting funding for federal land purchases," according to Carl Pope, Sierra Club executive director. "In fact, his budget proposal would take money from other important conservation programs to fund the conservation fund."
by Virginia Sutcliffe