The Emperor Bill seizes another million acres

By Vin Suprynowicz
web posted December 27, 1999

You have to hand one thing to Bill Clinton: He thinks big.

Back in 1996, this president staged a televised press conference at the south rim of the Grand Canyon to announce he was waving his "executive order" magic wand and declaring off limits to further commercial development or productive use -- without the consultation, consent, or approval of Congress or the Legislature of the state in question -- a huge hunk of southern Utah now designated the "Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument."

The Grand Canyon is a different national park entirely, of course. It was apparently just judged a more suitable photogenic backdrop for the network TV crews than the area actually being set aside by the president for eternal preservation, much of that land being, well ... stinking desert.

(Did I mention the Utahans had been planning to mine low-sulfur coal from the land thus ruled off limits for any American hoping to earn a living? Did I mention the world's other largest untapped reserve of such low-sulfur coal belongs to James Riady's Indonesian Lippo Group, which now faces far less competition? Did I mention the Riadys and Lippo have been among the largest contributors -- legal or otherwise -- to President Clinton's election campaigns?)

Anyway, having seen the president blithely bypass a Congress which has curiously balked at barring American ranchers, miners, lumbermen, and plain old hunters and fishermen from making any productive use of swatches of this nation's countryside larger than many a European principality, the kind of eco-nuts who live in big cities and think they can tell Westerners how to manage their coyotes and ravens apparently got to thinking: Why stop there?

So this March, federal Secretary of Land Seizures Bruce Babbitt traveled to Arizona to attend a public meeting at which the federals discussed a new proposed sweep of Mr. Clinton's magic wand, this time to rule off limits to productive use another 300,000 to 600,000 acres on the north rim of the Grand Canyon -- to be referred to as the Shivwits Plateau National Monument, or the Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument, or the Grand Canyon-Mount Charleston National Monument ... something like that.

Sure enough, President Clinton announced Dec. 14 he plans to do it again -- but not for a mere piker's 600,000 acres. No, no, the new plan is to set aside by executive decree another million acres -- the north rim of the Grand Canyon right up to the Nevada border ... plus another 8,000 acres near San Francisco if his mapmakers can find the way to San Jose; 71,000 acres for a new "Agua Fria National Monument" in the black-rock barrens north of Phoenix, Ariz.; and ... what else, Bruce? ... heck, throw in a couple of islands off the California coast.

At least, that's it for now. Tomorrow's another day.

Nevada senators Harry Reid and Richard Bryan, contacted for comments, expressed no major concerns. Sen. Reid said "That's Arizona's problem." Sen. Bryan only asked that such bold power grabs be dressed up in future with the proper trappings of "sufficient public input," while acknowledging the president is probably asserting himself so recklessly because the Republican-led Congress (now conveniently on holiday recess) has proven hostile to additional "public land protection."

"Protection" from what? Most of the lands in question are already administered by the BLM, which has been progressively closing down access roads and running off the local peasants for some years now. No one was planning to pave this arid real estate and erect a chain of massive new Toys 'R Us franchises.

As for the notion that the president is somehow justified to thus act unilaterally when the Congress drags its feet: This violates nothing less than the two most important underlying precepts of the very Constitution which William Jefferson Clinton twice swore a sacred oath to protect and defend.

The Founding Fathers warned us repeatedly that 1) the way to avoid tyranny is to allow government not to do any thing it believes a "good idea," but rather to allow it to do only those things for which it has been delegated specific powers; and 2) that those powers have been divided among the three branches of government not in hopes they would "work smoothly together," but just the opposite -- in the specific hope and expectation that one branch or another could always be relied upon to properly "drag its feet" should another branch (the executive being by far the greatest concern) take it into its head to rule by decree ... you know, like a dictator.

This failure of Nevada's two weak-hearted senators to rise up here and jealously guard their legislative prerogative is very discouraging. One wonders if their keepers still allow them solid food.

At least U.S. Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., the only member of the Nevada delegation who seems to have re-read the Constitution recently, declared: "These types of decisions should not be made in the secrecy of the White House."

He said a mouthful.

Vin Suprynowicz is assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. His new book, "Send in the Waco Killers: Essays on the Freedom Movement, 1993-1998," is available at $24.95 postpaid from Mountain Media, P.O. Box 271122, Las Vegas, Nev. 89127; by dialing 1-800-244-2224; or via web site

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