clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Surprise! Some say monument wasn't

Utahns may not know this about themselves. But they rip up sensitive land daily just to prevent it from becoming wilderness.

Just ask Rep. George Miller, R-Calif.He also says Utahns had "years of consultation" before the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument was formed. Of course, Utah leaders say they received details only on the day of its formation.

Another environmentalist House member, Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., says the monument is so widely popular that even Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt likes it. That's news to Leavitt, who always blasted the way it was created and doesn't like its boundaries.

But such arguments were used Wednesday to attack a bill by Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, to restrict the power of presidents to create national monuments.

That came in the first of two stages of House debate as it considered what rules and amendments will be allowed in the final debate on Hansen's bill scheduled for next Monday.

The bill would restrict presidents to creating monuments no larger than 50,000 acres (an area the size of Washington, D.C.). Grand Staircase-Escalante has 1.7 million acres. Had Hansen's bill been law, it would have been 97.1 percent smaller.

Presidents could create larger monuments under Hansen's bill only if they first consult the affected state's governor 30 days ahead - and then persuade Congress to approve it.

Hinchey said Hansen and other Utahns are pushing that as "some perverse kind of revenge" for President Clinton creating the monument he says "is approved by the overwhelming majority of American people including notable public officials in the state of Utah, including the governor."

A surprised Leavitt said later, "He must not have listened very carefully to my concerns." Leavitt doesn't like how the monument was formed or its present boundaries, and said Clinton and Vice President Al Gore "got their photo op but left us with a decade of public policy problems to sort through."

In another attack, Miller said Utahns try to claim mines and roads in pristine areas to try to prevent wilderness there.

"When you go out to Utah and you travel the lands, you'll see an interesting phenomenon. People drive tractors across the land, people punch holes in the land because they think that somehow would disqualify them from being nominated as wilderness areas.

"And it's going on on a weekly and a daily basis out there. So somebody had to take action," Miller said. "The president took action - as he properly did and rightfully did to protect the land in this state that belonged to the people of the United States."

Miller also didn't like complaints by Hansen and Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, that Utah leaders heard rumors of the monument only a week before it was formed, and then the White House denied any action was imminent. They were not shown boundaries until the day the monument was created.

But Miller said, "There has been years of consultation, years of discussion within the Utah delegation, within our committee, within the Congress."

He said that came as groups argued for years about how much wilderness should be in the state - ranging from the 1 million acres Utah delegation members pushed for years to the 5.7 million acres (one-tenth of the state) that Hinchey seeks.

Miller said when groups couldn't resolve that fight, Clinton had to act to prevent planned coal mining on some of the land that environmentalists wanted protected - and created the monument to do it.

Hansen complained that Clinton did not follow terms of the 1906 Antiquities Act requiring him to identify specific natural or historical treasures that were threatened and then protect them by setting aside only the smallest necessary acreage.

He said documents emerging since showed the administration was also mostly seeking to curry election-year favor with environmental groups. "This was done for political purposes only. It had nothing to do with protecting the area."

Hansen also argues the monument has hurt the land by attracting thousands more visitors, whom he said roam the area looking for some special features - "but there aren't any."

Cannon also set up the upcoming final debate saying, "I challenge opponents of this bill to convince me or anyone in Utah that such abuse won't happen again. They can't. That is why we need this bill."