Interior Secretary Gail Norton is to be commended for taking the initiative to investigate ways to scale back the national monuments created by former President Bill Clinton. This follows a statement made two weeks ago by President Bush that he will consider allowing oil and gas exploration in national monuments and other public lands that currently are off-limits.

The combined acts of Norton and Bush support efforts made by Utah Congressman Jim Hansen to offer similar assistance to House members whose districts contain new monuments. Hansen is chairman of the House Resources Committee.

The actions of Bush, Norton and Hansen are necessary because of the arbitrary way in which the former president designated national monuments. A classic example of that was the creation of the 1.7 million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah, which the Clinton administration created in 1996 without consulting Utah's congressional delegation.

While the Clinton administration had no problem taking broad strokes to create national monuments in Utah and elsewhere, it failed to address specifics regarding the operation of the monuments, according to Norton. The Clinton administration didn't plan how to fund the many monuments it created, including not providing funds to hire rangers to protect the monuments, she said.

While the Department of the Interior is focusing on only those monuments created during the past two years of the Clinton administration, Bush's statement on energy has renewed talk about allowing coal mining or oil exploration in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

Bush is right when he says there are parts of the monument lands that can be explored without affecting the overall environment. An energy policy that protects the environment while meeting the needs of consumers is achievable.

The need for the United States to produce more of its own energy warrants drilling for oil and gas on some national monuments and other select public lands.

Bush and those who succeed him as president need to have an open mind when it comes to designating national monuments. They don't want to do what the previous administration did — create national monuments that will be the source of headaches for the administrations that succeed this one.