House Kills Curbs on U.S. Monuments

Thursday, June 15th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) — In a victory for President Clinton and environmentalists, the House defeated a Republican effort Thursday to curb Clinton's ability to preserve land by declaring areas to be national monuments.

With moderate Republicans joining Democrats, lawmakers voted to kill legislation that would have prohibited the Interior Department from ``design, planning or management'' of any national monuments designated since the beginning of this year. The language, by Rep. James Hansen, R-Utah, had already prompted a White House veto threat of the spending bill that included it.

Over the objections of many Republicans and local businesses, Clinton has designated eight new national monuments and expanded an existing one since January. The monuments cover more than 1 million in acres in Arizona, California, Colorado, Oregon and Washington state.

``This president is engaging in the biggest land grab since the invasion of Poland,'' said Rep. Helen Chenoweth-Hage, R-Idaho.

Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., who led the effort to delete the provision, accused Republicans of a ``backdoor'' attempt to, in effect, prevent the president from protecting public lands. Clinton's efforts to protect the land has been one of his signature initiatives as president.

With both sides looking ahead to this November's elections, the fight echoed the numerous battles waged between Republicans and Clinton since the GOP took control of Congress in 1995.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., accused Republicans of an effort worthy of ``extreme anti-environmentalists.'' Rep. Bob Schaffer, R-Colo., said Clinton's designations were a campaign strategy in which ``vast, beautiful landscapes are used as nothing more than backdrop for political press conferences.''

On the key vote, lawmakers voted 234-187 to reject an effort by Hansen to keep his language intact.

The House then voted 243-177 to delete the Hansen provision and another section of the bill aimed at slowing government efforts to tighten land-use restrictions on federal lands along the Columbia River basin in the Northwest.

In an administration policy statement, White House officials wrote that Hansen's provision was an effort ``to nullify nine recent designations, which the American public has strongly endorsed, and to prevent the president from moving decisively in the future to protect and preserve other sites for future generations.''

Clinton made the designations under the 1906 Antiquities Act, which allows a president to designate federal lands as monuments for historic or scientific reasons. Republicans said he had used the law to set aside more land than it intended, and had made designations without informing local members of Congress and other officials.

``It all comes down to one thing, an abuse of power,'' said Hansen. ``I don't know of one president who has abused his power more than this one has.''

Earlier, an effort by Rep. George Nethercutt, R-Wash., to protect bill language preventing new management rules in the Columbia basin was defeated by 221-206.

In an effort that began in 1993, federal officials want to impose new land-use regulations on 63 million acres of federal land in Washington state, Oregon, Idaho and Montana.

The rules are aimed at protecting forests, range lands and endangered salmon and bull trout in the area. They would allow increased logging but less grazing on the lands, close some roads, and take steps to protect streams.

Nethercutt said the rules would dramatically effect local landowners, and said the administration was ignoring legal requirements that the consequences on local businesses be considered. Democrats said Nethercutt's language would hurt preservation efforts.

Both provisions were stricken from a $14.6 billion measure financing federal land and cultural programs.

The fiscal 2001 bill would provide $300 million less than is being spent this year, and $1.7 billion less than Clinton wants. The White House has objected to cuts in his proposals, including a $434 million reduction in the $620 million he wants for acquiring federal and local parklands.