- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 22, 2001

President Bush is unlikely to try to overturn his predecessor's 11th-hour designations of millions of acres of federal land as national monuments.

"No decision has been made by the Interior Department on whether or not to try to overturn Clinton's national monument designations at this point," a spokesman for Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton told The Washington Times yesterday.

Many conservatives were upset with the way former President Bill Clinton removed huge tracts of federal land from commercial and recreational use without first consulting with the governors of the affected states and local residents.

Mr. Clinton made all but one of the national monument designations after the presidential elections in November. He expanded by at least 1 million acres, or 25 percent, the amount of land designated as national monuments, which precludes mining, logging and recreational activities on the land.

Many conservatives, however, did not expect Mr. Bush to unilaterally roll back Mr. Clinton's actions, believing it to be unfeasible both politically and legally.

Under the law, once a president designates federal lands as national monuments, that designation cannot be removed by another president. In that respect, congressional legal experts said, national monument designations are not the same as executive orders, which can be reversed by a new president.

Mr. Bush said he would review Mr. Clinton's end-of-term executive orders, but the national monuments designations are of a different nature and will require congressional action.

However, Angela Antonelli, Heritage Foundation director for the Roe Institute for Economic Policy, noted, "No president ever rescinded designations made by a previous president."

There appeared to be little concern among conservatives that the Bush administration probably will not attempt to unilaterally overturn Mr. Clinton's designations. This suggests to some conservatives at least that the property-rights movement is reflecting a political savvy and maturity indicative of the larger conservative movement.

"One of the mistakes [Reagan administration Interior Secretary] James Watt and his Interior Department made was being too direct and confrontational, and I think Gale Norton understands political strategy better than Watt did," said Clark Collins, executive director of the Blue Ribbon Coalition.

"We need to make some changes in these monuments, but we don't need to have a lot of political bloodshed over it," added Mr. Collins, who said his coalition represents more than 1,000 off-highway recreational users and businesses that would be denied use of national monument lands.

While the president and the interior secretary may be legally barred from acting without the consent of Congress in the case of national monuments, an attempt to do so might have played well in the past with a Republican president seeking to shore up his conservative political base.

But many conservatives say their movement has gained a considerable degree of sophistication and moderation, especially after eight years of being out of the White House during the Clinton era.

"People who understand it takes an act of Congress to get rid of these designations won't be angry if Bush doesn't rescind them, and people who don't understand are probably very angry," said Myron Ebell, international environmental director of the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

Although Congress has the legal authority, most political observers believe it is unlikely to move to rescind the national monument designations Mr. Clinton made in his last three months in office.

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