- The Washington Times - Monday, December 20, 1999

Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt’s proposal to create three new national monuments is just the beginning of a quest to establish an environmental legacy for the Clinton administration, Western lawmakers said.
Mr. Babbitt last week asked President Clinton to use his executive power to bypass Congress and create three new monuments and expand another in Arizona and California totaling more than 1 million acres.
According to published reports and congressional aides, Mr. Babbitt is also targeting another half-dozen sites he says needs federal protection in California, Colorado, Montana and Oregon.
Mr. Clinton said he directed Mr. Babbitt a year ago to report to him on the “unique and fragile places that deserve to be protected” as national monuments.
Western lawmakers are outraged over what they call “the latest war on the West” and say the administration is hypocritical in disregarding public laws and the public process for political purposes.
“Those laws are being ignored, not to save open space, but to artificially create a Clinton legacy and to garner the endorsement of environmental groups for Vice President Al Gore’s campaign for president,” said Alaska Republican Frank H. Murkowski, chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
“From the president’s poor political decisions to assist his wife’s U.S. Senate campaign to his new effort to help Vice President Gore’s presidential campaign, it’s alarming to think what lies down the road,” said fellow Alaska Republican, Rep. Don Young, chairman of the House Resources Committee.
Arizona state and federal officials were working to find a compromise solution to protect one area of land in their states by means other than monument status and had bills moving through both the House and Senate. However, officials were caught off guard on the second monument designation, which had not been publicly discussed until two months ago.
They were outraged when Mr. Babbitt abruptly abandoned the public process and asked the president to designate the monuments, which were double the size originally discussed.
This circumvention, the delegation said, was “absolutely inappropriate.”
Mr. Babbitt said his intentions were not political, but environmental in nature.
“We are attempting to preserve and pass on the very best of America’s natural heritage, of its history, of its archaeology, of its great open landscapes,” Mr. Babbitt said.
In addition to the two Arizona and one California designation, the other monuments Mr. Babbitt is considering are the Missouri Breaks along 140 miles of the Missouri River in Montana; Steens Mountain and Soda Mountain in Oregon; Santa Rosa Mountains and Carrizo Plain in California; and 160,000 acres in Montezuma County, Colo.
Legislators in those states are now concerned Mr. Babbitt may abandon the public process there and move straight toward monument designation.
In Western states, monument designation can restrict hunting, fishing, grazing, mining and logging that many communities are dependent upon for a healthy economy.
Mr. Clinton came under fire in 1996 when he created the controversial Grand Staircase-Escalante Monument in Utah just months before the 1996 presidential election.
In Montana, Sen. Conrad Burns is on the offensive after recent news reports said Mr. Babbitt would abandon the public process there and recommend Mr. Clinton move forward with monument designation.
Mr. Burns fired off a letter to the secretary last week, strongly urging him to not bypass the process.
“Should this happen, you will have wasted precious time and taxpayer dollars while using the [advisory committee] process as a thin cover for what you planned to do in the first place,” Mr. Burns said.
“The attitude that allows federal officials to walk all over the opinions and wishes of local residents must stop,” Mr. Burns said.
Oregon legislators are also wary that the ongoing public process to protect Steens and Soda Mountain might be interrupted by a sudden decision by the administration to designate the area a monument.
“The reality we face is that we can do nothing and he will run over us, or we can make a good-faith effort to protect the land ourselves,” said Rep. Greg Walden, Oregon Republican.
In the meantime, Mr. Walden said they remain “cautious and wary.”
Colorado officials are also on the alert that monument designation lingers in the shadows of discussions to protect ancient Indian ruins in the southwest corner of the state.
Arizona lawmakers were moving legislation to protect the designated areas in their state when Mr. Babbitt moved to declare monument status.

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