GOP Aims to Block Creation of Monumentby Les Blumenthal, Herald Washington, D.C., bureau
Tri-City Herald, May 18, 2000
WASHINGTON - Republicans sought to block creation of a Hanford Reach national monument on Wednesday by slipping a last-minute provision into a House spending bill.
While the provision doesn't single out the 51-mile free-flowing stretch of the Columbia that flows through the Hanford nuclear reservation, it would prohibit the use of money in the Interior appropriations bill for the "design, planning or management" of a national monument created since 1999 under the 1906 Antiquities Act.
The action came only hours after Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt toured the Reach and strongly suggested the administration is considering it for national monument status.
The provision would bar the creation of new monuments, such as the Hanford Reach and leave in limbo such recently created ones such as the 335,000-acre Giant Sequoia National Monument in California.
The House Interior appropriations subcommittee approved the $14.6 billion bill on a straight party-line vote. There was little debate on the provision, known as a rider, as Democrats said they expected to fight it when the full House Appropriations Committee meets to consider the bill as early as next week.
The administration immediately threatened a veto.
"This provision is irresponsible and, I reiterate, the president will be forced to oppose it," said Washington Rep. Norm Dicks, the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee.
Dicks said the inclusion of the national monument rider, along with another designed to derail the so-called Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management Project, "jeopardize this bill's chance of passage in the full House and its chance of being signed by the president.
"If the authorizing committee (the House Resources Committee) wishes to pass legislation to amend the Antiquities Act - an act which has been used by nearly every president since its passage - then they should do so," Dicks said. "But our bill should not carry this provision."
Dicks said he didn't learn of the riders until 9 p.m. Tuesday. Subcommittee aides said first word of the riders came from House Republican Whip Tom DeLay.
No one wanted to claim credit for the national monument rider, though several lawmakers said it was first proposed by Rep. James Hansen, R-Utah. Hansen and other Utah officials have been angry ever since President Clinton created the 1.7 million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in 1996.
Rep. George Nethercutt, R-Wash., a member of the subcommittee, said he knew little about the rider, but supported it.
"I'm sure it could affect the Reach," said Nethercutt.
Jennifer Scott, a spokeswoman for Rep. Richard "Doc" Hastings, R-Wash., whose district includes the Hanford Reach, denied her boss was involved.
"Obviously we are very interested in it," Scott said. "It shows the level of concern in Congress."
Though Hastings isn't on the appropriations subcommittee, he is a member of the House Rules Committee, which is close to the Republican leadership.
Environmentalists have long sought permanent protection of the Reach because it provides critical spawning habitat for one of the healthiest runs of salmon in the region. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., has sought to protect the Reach under the federal Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, but Hastings and Washington's other senator, Republican Slade Gorton, have opposed such a move.
Under the Antiquities Act, the president has the authority to create national monuments involving areas of historic or scientific interest. Every president since the act became law in 1906 has used it to protect federal lands.
But its use remains controversial, especially in the West, where officials see the establishment of such monuments as federal land grabs.
Republican members of the subcommittee made no effort to defend the rider. But Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin, the ranking Democrat on the full House Appropriations Committee, joined Dicks in criticizing it.
Obey said Republican presidents have used the Antiquities Act to create national monuments roughly twice as often as Democrats.
"I am flabbergasted by people who try to tie our president's hands," Obey said, adding that Democrats were resigned to passage of the rider by the subcommittee. "... We might as well get on with the hanging and hope we can resurrect the corpse sometime later."
The other rider would essentially bar the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management from issuing a final decision on the Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management Project until it factors in the economic impact on local communities.
The seven-year, $45 million study was designed to coordinate management plans for more than 72 million federal acres in the inter-mountain West.
Dicks said any delay in the project could affect efforts to restore protected salmon runs and open the door to those who have called for breaching four dams on the lower Snake River.
Nethercutt, however, said the federal agencies need to comply with the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act before finalizing a plan.
"This is nothing new," he said. "We just want to make sure existing law is followed."
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