WASHINGTON -- The administration is 'doing justice' to natural resources and the environment by balancing idealism with reality, Interior Secretary William Clark says.
In a speech Thursday to the National Press Club, Clark said Reagan believes in conservation.
'It is repugnant to the conservative philosophy to allow destruction of those qualities that make America a great place to live - our scenic wonders, our historic landmarks, our cultural endowments,' Clark said.
'Balancing the management of natural resources means doing justice as well to our economic and national security needs, not only of this generation, but of future generations of Americans,' he said.
Reagan is trying to polish up his image on environmental issues, for which he has been heavily attacked since taking office.
Clark touched briefly on such controversial Interior Department issues as offshore oil, national parks acquisition and wilderness, which have drawn criticism from environmental groups who claim Reagan favors industry over preservation.
He brushed off such criticsm. 'Constituencies interested in a particular policy usually claim not enough is being done. But, of course, that's their job.'
Clark credited Reagan for increasing the designated wilderness areas by 40 percent, or 12 million acres, but Wilderness Society spokeswoman Gail Backman said it was Congress that deserved the credit.
'Wilderness is increasing in spite of the Reagan administration, not because of it,' she said.
The Wilderness Society issued a statement saying Clark was carrying out the policies of his predecessor, James Watt, 'quietly, conscientiously and vigorously.'
'William Clark has engaged in a shrewd and calculated cover-up of Watt's anti-environmental agenda,' the society said.
He said opponents of offshore oil development 'lack vision' because there is no oil glut, but instead a receding of the reserves and the United States is spending $1 billion a week -- 32 percent of consumption -- to buy foreign oil.
Clark warned that even after new offshore wells are discovered, it takes 5 or 10 years to get the oil out.
Clark said the president 'has approached natural resource issues on a case-by-case, issue-by-issue basis, keeping in mind the concurrent needs for conservation, for preservation and for development.'