- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 17, 2000

Vice President Al Gore Mr. Environmentalism, Mr. Encyclopedic Mind went blank during the second presidential debate last week when challenged on one of the most alarming land issues facing the nation.

Highlighting the difference in their approaches to environmental policy, Texas Gov. George W. Bush noted that the Clinton-Gore administration "took 40 million acres of land out of circulation without consulting local officials." They acted unilaterally out West, Mr. Bush said. Twice, he lodged the complaint. Twice, Mr. Gore blinked and grimaced and sat there speechless for a brief but telling moment. He had no sob stories to relate, no policy minutiae to spin, and no controlling legal authority to cite in defense of the White House's monumental federal land grab.

Mr. Gore says he doesn't believe in command and control. Sigh. That is exactly the method of environmental preservation he and President Clinton have perpetrated over the past eight years. Westerners know that when pallid White House officials show up in creased khaki pants with photographers and press corps in tow, the out-of-towners aren't just there to take in the scenery. They're there to take it away. Through imperial proclamation, the Clinton-Gore team has created federally protected monuments spanning nearly 4 million acres.

(Mr. Gore, a numbers know-it-all, didn't correct Mr. Bush's 40 million figure. Uh-oh. Maybe there's a late October Surprise or two in store for some of the Western swing states.)

The crowbar being used to pry away land and bypass Congress' constitutional authority over federal property is the 1906 Antiquities Act. It allows the president, without the consent of Congress, to set aside acreage and buildings of historic and scientific interest. This emergency power was intended to be invoked for small national treasures including "historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures," and other archeological artifacts. But Mr. Clinton, ever the model of unrestraint, has wielded the Antiquities Act to designate more land as national monuments in the continental United States than any other president.

The Clinton-Gore administration first used the law in 1996, two months before the presidential election, to declare the 1.7 million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah off-limits to mining. Next came California lands, including more than 300,000 acres in the already protected Sequoia National Forest. Mr. Gore preaches reform that "strengthens the environment and the economy," but as M. David Stirling of the Pacific Legal Foundation noted, the Sequoia monument declaration included many small businesses that will be completely inaccessible to motorized vehicles not to mention elderly and disabled Americans.

Among the sweeping panoramas and vast landscapes most recently locked up by the feds are the Hanford Reach National Monument, totaling 195,000 acres in southern Washington; the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, totaling 52,000 acres in southern Oregon; the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, totaling 164,000 acres in southwestern Colorado; and the Ironwood Forest National Monument, totaling 129,000 acres in southern Arizona.

The Clinton-Gore bandits say they are snatching up the land to prevent "sprawl." But much of the newly appropriated land is desolate, beyond the reach of developers, and already managed capably by state and local officials. Rochelle Oxarango, a sheeprancher who lives on targeted land near the Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho, put it well in an angry op-ed for the Idaho Statesman: "Protecting land that doesn't need protection is a foolish exercise that does nothing for the land, while damaging the relationship between the federal government and the local people who know the land."

Legal challenges to the Clinton-Gore land seizure are mired in the courts. Meanwhile, one-third of the country has fallen into federal hands. Mr. Gore's complicity in seizing the West through force makes one thing clear: The nation needs a president who obeys the constitutional separation of powers, respects local sovereignty, and honors the fruited plain for its environmental beauty not its electoral count.

Michelle Malkin is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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