October 22, 2015

Udall Remarks at the Scenic America 50th Anniversary White House Conference on Natural Beauty

WASHINGTON - U.S. Senator Tom Udall presented a resolution honoring the 50th anniversary of the Highway Beautification Act during the Scenic America 50th Anniversary White House Conference on Natural Beauty Wednesday evening. The resolution, cosponsored by U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), recognizes the legacy and vision of President and Lady Bird Johnson, who led efforts to create the act. Also known as "Lady Bird's Bill," the law's purpose is "to protect the public investment in highways, to promote the safety and recreational value of public travel, and to preserve natural beauty."

In attendance were Lynda Johnson Robb, daughter of President and Lady Bird Johnson; Larry Rockefeller, son of conservationist Laurance Rockefeller; and Congressman Sam Farr.

Below are Udall's remarks as prepared for delivery:

Thank you, Ron. It's great to be here this evening with all of you.

First, let me just say that Lynda and I go way back. Lynda, one of my memories of your mother was when I was about 18 years old. I was invited to Luci's birthday party at the White House. There was a rock-and-roll band. It was pretty exciting. But my mom was there too, and in that way that some moms have-that embarrasses teenagers the world over-she said, "Tom, go ask the First Lady to dance." And I did, and you know what? She was a good dancer!

When my dad, Stewart Udall, was Secretary of the Interior, he always said that we hold land in trust. He had one main goal-a revival of respect for the environment. He used to say that back then you could fit the conservation movement into a broom closet and still have room for the brooms! He loved hanging out with the three conservation legends we honor tonight: President Lyndon Johnson, Lady Bird Johnson, and Laurance Rockefeller. He ran river rapids out West with Lady Bird. He enjoyed the magnificence of Laurance Rockefeller's JY Ranch. And he traveled all over the country with LBJ - running river rapids was easier!

At the White House Conference on Natural Beauty, its chairman, Laurance Rockefeller, said, "How we treat our land, how we build upon it, how we act toward our air and water will in the long run tell what kind of people we really are." Laurance Rockefeller lived those words. He dedicated his life to those words. And those words defined who he was. He was truly a giant of the conservation movement. When Congress established the Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission in 1958-Laurance Rockefeller served as its chairman under both Republican and Democratic presidents. Under his leadership, that commission provided a road map for pivotal conservation programs, including the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

When President Johnson said he wanted a redwood national park, he asked my dad and Laurance Rockefeller to make that happen, and they did. My dad greatly valued Laurance Rockefeller's counsel and his friendship. Lady Bird Johnson called him America's leading conservationist. He was presented with many awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1969. But his legacy is much more than awards. From the Grand Tetons to the Virgin Islands, visitors to some of our most treasured natural spaces are there thanks to Laurance Rockefeller's vision and generosity.

We have come a long way from the days of Teddy Roosevelt, when House Speaker Joe Cannon famously said, "Not one cent for scenery!" That seems comical now. It probably was comical to a lot of folks even then, but it speaks to the uphill battle, the necessary vision, to go against the current-and to keep going.

President Johnson and Lady Bird Johnson had that vision, they had that fortitude, and history was made: The Wilderness Act, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, over 50 new national parks and wildlife refuges, the Clean Air Act, the Water Quality Act. Getting it done-and as my dad would say "getting it done right"-under President Johnson's brilliant leadership, always driving, always pushing, never giving up. As the historian Robert Dallek said, LBJ was "a tornado in pants!"

Lady Bird, in her quiet way, was just as strong, just as determined. And I think history is clear: We owe so much to her tireless efforts. From the Highway Beautification Act, to protecting the redwoods, to blocking the damming of the Grand Canyon-Lady Bird Johnson was there.

My dad worked closely with Mrs. Johnson. He remembered their first trip out West to Montana, Wyoming, and Utah. He noticed two things about her right away. One was her modesty, and the other was her keen judgment. Lynda, I was struck by something you once said regarding the partnership between your parents. You said, "He thought she was the smartest person he ever knew and that she had the best judgment." If she thought something was a good thing, then President Johnson most likely would as well. So she was a great ally. She was a great force.

Lady Bird Johnson helped shine a light on the environment, and on protecting our natural treasures. In the half century since then, that light has sometimes flickered, but it has never gone out. It was-and is-hard work. When President Johnson signed the Highway Beautification Act, he conceded it didn't do all we wanted. It was a beginning, not an end. Sam, your dad, Fred, was the first national Highway Beautification Coordinator, and we know that struggle continues.

The first Wilderness bill was introduced by Hubert Humphrey in 1956. It was very controversial. Senator Clinton Anderson, from my state of New Mexico, kept pushing, year after year, and it took eight years and over 60 revisions before President Johnson could finally sign the Wilderness Act into law. The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act took four years to make its way through Congress to President Johnson's desk. But Democrats and Republicans worked together. They understood that our common heritage, our national treasures, and the health and safety of American families should not have a party label. They knew Speaker Cannon was wrong. It wasn't just about scenery. It was a way of looking at the world that has changed the world.

President Johnson and Lady Bird Johnson, Laurance Rockefeller, that great generation-they left big shoes to fill. We are all the beneficiaries of their vision and their determination. We honor them tonight. But they also challenge us-not to just look back in gratitude, but to look forward with renewed commitment, with renewed determination. We owe that to future generations. What will they celebrate a half century from now? What will we leave them? I hope we leave them a safer planet where the threat of climate change has been met, where a clean energy economy is thriving, and where our natural treasures are protected.

Mrs. Johnson said it best, "The environment is where we all meet; where all have a mutual interest; it is the one thing all of us share. It is not only a mirror of ourselves but a focusing lens on what we can become." That is something to remember and to honor. So I was very pleased to cosponsor a resolution with Senator Alexander for the 50th anniversary of the Highway Beautification Act.

Lynda, and Larry, I would like to present that resolution to you now. It reads as follows:

Whereas, on October 22, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Highway Beautification Act of 1965, also known as "Lady Bird's Bill," "to protect the public investment in [public] highways, to promote the safety and recreational value of public travel, and to preserve natural beauty";

Whereas, earlier in 1965, President Johnson convened a White House Conference on Natural Beauty that recommended, among other things, certain highway beautification actions;

Whereas, at the signing of the Highway Beautification Act of 1965, President Johnson stated: "This bill does not represent everything that we wanted. It does not represent what we need. It does not represent what the national interest requires. But it is a first step, and there will be other steps. For though we must crawl before we walk, we are going to walk.";

Whereas, since inception, the National Highway System has expanded to, as of October 2015, over 220,000 miles stretching all across the United States; and

Whereas, the national vision led by President Johnson and Lady Bird Johnson for a more beautiful highway system should be remembered and renewed;

Now, therefore, be it Resolved, that the Senate-

1) recognizes the legacy and vision of President Lyndon B. Johnson and Lady Bird Johnson on the 50th anniversary of the enactment of the Highway Beautification Act of 1965;

2) commends the organizations, volunteers and businesses that work to support the vision of a more beautiful United States;

3) recognizes that beautiful highways and scenic byways promote economic development and national and international tourism, and reflect the best of the United States; and

4) renews the previous commitment of the Senate to protect the public investment in public highways, promote the safety and recreational value of public travel, and preserve the natural beauty of the United States.