While the U.S. House of Representatives has already approved President
Clinton's designation of 1.7 million acres of Utah land as a federal
wilderness area, the House Resources Committee has yet to read a
blistering report by its own staff characterizing the deal initiated by
the president just seven weeks before the 1996 election, as a blatant
political act under the guise of environmental protection.
"The only thing the president was trying to protect by designating the
Utah Monument was his chance to win re-election," the report bluntly
states. "The 'threat' motivating the president's action was electoral,
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WorldNetDaily has obtained a copy of the document that outlines the administration's record of deception in the formation of Utah's Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Scheduled for release last week, the report is being withheld from distribution and public release in part to ensure passage of Utah-related legislation.
In the Senate, there's the "Utah Schools and Lands Exchange Act of 1998," a bill which would give Utah 139,000 acres of federally held land, certain mineral rights, and $50 million in exchange for all of Utah's claims to lands within national parks, monuments, forests and federal areas. Authored by Utah Republican James Hansen, it was approved by the House in June. Still in the House is the pork-laden Omnibus Wilderness Bill, also by Hansen, which includes the identical legislation -- just in case it doesn't get through the Senate on its own.
Hansen, who chairs the Subcommittee on National Parks and Public Lands, has admitted he agreed to the deal, which was suggested by the administration, and persuaded Resources Committee Chairman Don Young, R-AK, to pull the report from its scheduled release.
"The report ... outlines many serious violations regarding the creation of the monument, but I am happy to forego committee consideration as long as we are making progress on other issues which are critical to the people of Utah," Hansen said in a written statement.
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Aptly titled "Monumental Abuse," the report concludes there was no threat to the environment, it was "illusory." And the president's statement -- wherein he described the area as a "national treasure" -- "was as far away from accuracy as he was from Utah."
The House Resources Committee has been investigating what went on behind the scenes in the establishment of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and why it was done in the first place. "Monumental Abuse" contradicts the official version at every point.
The White House claims designation was necessary to protect a fragile and important ecosystem in southwest Utah from mining and development. In particular, the president wanted to include the 1,650-square-mile Kaiparowits Plateau within the monument to save it from an impending mining operation. The Kaiparowits Plateau contains the largest undeveloped coal field in the country and was to be developed by Andalex
Resources, Inc., which held the leases on 34,000 acres. Most of the paperwork had been completed and the project was on track. Andalex planned on mining 100 to 120 million tons of coal over a 45-year period.
This would have meant hundreds of jobs, new businesses, and millions of dollars in taxes and royalty revenues for cash-strapped local governments. That didn't matter to Clinton, who was angling for environmentalist votes.
"Mining jobs are good jobs, and mining is important to our national security -- but we can't have mines everywhere, and we shouldn't have mines that threaten national treasures," the president intoned to his audience at the Grand Canyon photo-op. There, in an adjacent state (he didn't dare go to Utah), he signed the proclamation creating the
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Clinton didn't mention that the coal he was effectively locking away was a low-sulfur, clean-burning coal called "compliance coal," so-named because it meets requirements set by the EPA. It is in demand worldwide as a fuel for electric plants. Nor did he mention that one of the only other places in the world where comparable coal is found is Indonesia, the home of Mochtar and James Riady, the Chinese government-connected billionaires who poured millions of dollars into Clinton campaigns in 1992 and 1996.
The report builds on one released last November by the staff of the Resources Committee.
The earlier report revealed that the administration, notably the President's Council on Environmental Quality, knew that the monument area wasn't "threatened" or even particularly significant. The Kaiparowits Plateau wasn't part of the monument considerations until months into the process. The CEQ had been looking at other areas for Clinton to designate, like areas near Arches and Canyonland National Parks and Lake Powell.
In a March 25, 1996, e-mail Katie McGinty, who chairs the President's Council on Environmental Quality, expressed certain qualms she was having.
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"i'm [sic] increasingly of the view that we should just drop these utah
[sic] ideas. we [sic] do not really know how the enviros will react and
I do think there is a danger of 'abuse' of the withdraw/antiquities
authorities especially because these lands are not really endangered,"
A few days before, on March 22, CEQ staffer Linda Lance had written an e-mail questioning "the political consequences of designating these lands as monuments when ... they're probably not the areas of the country most in need of this designation."
And no reference was made to the Kaiparowits Plateau before March 27, when it was mentioned in an e-mail by Tom Jensen, a CEQ staffer.
"KM (Katie McGinty) and others may want to rope in the Kaiparowits and Escalante Canyons regions if this package [other areas that were being considered] doesn't seem adequate to the president's overall purpose," Jensen said.
The subcommittee staff report concluded that the monument designation was "almost entirely politically motivated to assist the Clinton-Gore re-election effort," and that Clinton had evaded the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)."
Following that first report, the subcommittee decided to dig deeper and requested a further review as to whether there was any actual threat posed by development of the Smokey Hollow Mine, as the Andalex project was called.
On Nov. 5, 1997, the Resources Committee sent a letter to Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt asking for each version of the Preliminary Draft Environmental Impact Statement (PDEIS) prepared for the Warm Spring Project/Smokey Hollow Mine.
The National Environmental Protection Act requires an environmental impact statement (EIS) for almost any project these days, from a supermarket to a coal mine. These are analytical documents evaluating a project's potential impacts to the human environment and offering reasonable alternatives. Significant designations, such as declaring an
area a wilderness, also require an EIS.
NEPA compliance is overseen by the Council on Environmental Quality.
An EIS is drafted by the government agency that oversees the project. For Andalex's Smokey Hollow Mine the Bureau of Land Management and the Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement were jointly responsible. They began work on the EIS in 1990. Private third-party contractors were called on for outside expertise and independent analysis, but were barred from communication with Andalex.
Babbitt refused to release the Preliminary Draft of the EIS to the committee, claiming such a document is "privileged" because of the "predecisional" nature of the material.
To obtain a copy the Resources Committee had to pry one loose with a subpoena. This was served on Nov. 12, 1997; the requested documents were ponied up a week later. They include all the notes and correspondence on the project. The present report is based on these documents, in particular, the 561-page PDEIS.
Here are some of its points and findings:
- "To have at least the appearance of credibility, the president had to point to some sort of threat. As far as the Clinton Administration was concerned, the coal mine fit the bill. After all, in a campaign where image reigned supreme, reality was of little consequence. As the campaign dust settled, a new question arose: was the development of the coal mine actually a threat to justify sealing off 1.7 million acres of southern Utah? The PDEIS makes it clear the answer is no."
- "The Clinton administration's own agencies determined after a full review, that between killing the mine and approving it, approval was the 'preferred alternative.'"
- Scientists and land managers of the BLM concluded that the land that would be affected by the coal mine wasn't -- as Clinton claimed -- "the most remarkable land in the world." Significantly, "its high potential for future development outweighed its low wilderness values."
- Even if the land were remarkable, "Construction and operation of the proposed project would have no direct, physical impact on any of the wilderness study areas or the potential designation of wilderness areas in the Smoky Mountain area," according to the BLM.
- In his proclamation statement, Clinton drew attention to alleged "world class paleontological sites", "important cultural resources" and a "spectacular array of unusual and diverse soils" and "cryptobiotic crusts" -- all of which he wanted to protect from the mine. He spoke of a "spectacular array of unusual and diverse soils" and "cryptobiotic crusts" and showed concern for "many different vegetative communities."
- It was all untrue. The PDEIS reports there was nothing of significance in the area and the mine would have "minor to negligible impact."
Perhaps the most striking revelation in the report concerns Andalex and how its project was derailed by CEQ and Interior Department honchos in Washington.
Andalex officials had worked diligently with BLM officials at the local level. During the PDEIS process, the company contacted a variety of federal, state and local agencies and interest groups. They had spent $8 million dollars, and held over 500 public meetings to explain the project and solicit information and suggestions from concerned local
residents. They agreed to many proposals to ensure an environmentally sensitive operation. For instance, when there were concerns that the buildings on the site would be too visible, Andalex agreed to locate these in a valley away from the viewshed, even though this would be more costly.
Their efforts were in vain -- for once the decision was made by CEQ in late March, 1996, to "rope in the Kaiparowits" there was an all out effort to kill the mine.
A heretofore uninvolved agency within the Department of Interior -- the Office of Environmental Policy -- suddenly became very involved and began working closely with CEQ. The Office of Environmental Police went so far as to tell the Utah BLM officials what should be included in the EIS. For instance, Andalex had figured they'd be mining only 100 to 120 million tons of coal over the life of the project. The Office of Environmental Police said another alternative should be included that would show Andalex mining much more coal than planned. It wouldn't be true, but it would create the illusion that the mine would have greater impact. It would be easier to deny a permit based on an EIS that contained such an alternative than the one that reflected
Andalex's actual plans.
This kind of meddling from Washington did not sit well with the local agents. An e-mail from one environmental policy agent to the director of the agency shows the reception his ideas were given.
"As expected, the field personnel are very unhappy," the e-mail reads. "They feel that I was not given all the information that should have been reviewed by me as part of the review process. They feel that had I looked at all the information, some of my recommendations may have been different."
The dispute between the Office of Environmental Police and the Utah agents became moot when Clinton designated the monument. Seven years of work by BLM and Andalex to make the mine a reality was swept away.
"What did the affected communities think of the Utah Monument?, the committee report asks rhetorically. "What effects will it have on the local and state economies? On the environment? No one knows because the analysis for the Utah Monument designation, required under NEPA, was never done ... For the Clinton Administration, the ends of political expediency justified the means of abusing the process and the rights of the people of Utah."