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House bill would limit creation of monuments

Administration backs retort to Clinton’s legacy

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WASHINGTON — While Bill Clinton is gone, he's not forgotten.

Republicans said Tuesday that the former president so badly abused authority to create national monuments that such presidential power must now be forever limited.

The Bush administration endorses that effort. But in a hearing on legislation to do it, Democrats complained that Republicans — led by Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah — are so busy complaining about Clinton-created monuments that they may hurt President Bush's ability to protect pristine lands if threatened.

"It would be a true shame to limit Mr. Bush's legacy simply because the majority is still whining over monuments designated by (former) President Clinton," said Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.V., ranking Democrat on the House Resources Committee. "I am shocked and dismayed that the sponsors of this measure apparently do not trust the judgment of our president since their proposal would hamstring his authority."

But Hansen, chairman of the committee, said abuse by Clinton has forced the campaign to rework the law — something Hansen has repeatedly sought in the five years since Clinton created the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument with only hours of prior notice.

Hansen's previous efforts to change the law were thwarted by Clinton's veto threats.

Hansen issued a statement for Tuesday's hearing saying that "Clinton designated nearly 5.8 million acres of public land as national monuments without the input of local residents and officials."

Hansen is co-sponsoring a bill by Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, that would limit the size of permanent monuments that a president may create to 50,000 acres. In comparison, the District of Columbia has about 38,000 acres.

It would allow a president to create temporarily a monument larger than 50,000 acres, but it would disappear after two years if not ratified by Congress.

The bill would also require presidents to solicit public comment and to consult with the governors and congressional delegations of affected states at least 60 days prior to declaring a monument of any size.

Simpson said, "One need only look at President Clinton's declaration of the 1.7 million acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and the ensuing controversy to see what happens when you bypass the public and state and local officials."

In the hearing before the Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Recreation and Public Lands, some of that perceived damage was outlined by Michael Noel, chairman of the Kane County Resource Development Committee.

"After five years of living with the monument, the economic conditions in Kane and Garfield (counties) are worse than ever," he said.

He said the monument has restricted economic development on 51 percent of the county's land. And promises of tourism flourishing haven't materialized because the land was protected for political reasons to appease environmentalists and not to attract tourists.

At the hearing, a coalition of 20 national environmental groups opposed limiting presidential powers. They were represented by Theodore Roosevelt IV, the great grandson of the first president to use that power to protect the Grand Canyon.

He said that power "remains an important tool for protection of federal lands held in trust for all Americans, not just the residents in a particular state." The Bush administration formally endorsed the Simpson-Hansen bill. Deputy Interior Secretary Tom Fulton said it would "reinforce actions already taken by this administration" to involve the public more in management of new monuments.

"The department is committed to bringing common sense and balance to the decision process by listening to the people most affected by the decisions," he said.


E-mail: lee@desnews.com