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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release June 9, 2000
                           PRESS BRIEFING BY
                      ON ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY AND

                           Presidential Hall
             Dwight D. Eisenhower Executive Office Building

MR. FRAMPTON: -- (in progress) -- is the canyons of the ancients national monument, 164,000 acres of BLM land that is up against the southwest Colorado, up against the Utah border, about 10 miles from Mesa Verde, will continue to be managed by the BLM. This is an area that contains the highest known density of archaeological sites in the United States, more than 20,000 sites, including kivas and cliff houses and check-dams.

This is a very remote area and it's actually been pretty well protected by the BLM and by local residents over the last half century. But the growth of population and tourism in this area definitely is threatening degradation and vandalism of these sites. The interesting thing about this area is that it is fairly well developed, with oil and gas development, existing production primarily of C02, carbon dioxide. And, actually, the industry there is pretty well established and has been very good about protecting the area; the existing fields don't threaten the archaeological sites. And they've worked with the Interior Department in shaping this proposal, so the proclamation will provide that existing oil and gas and C02 leasing goes forward, as long as it doesn't -- the leases can stay in place as long as they don't harm the objects sought to be protected.

But new leasing will occur only as necessary to tap out the existing fields, the existing domes. So what we're looking at, basically, is no new leasing that has any impact on the objects to be protected here, and a phase out of existing reservoirs, which is estimated to be 30, possibly as long as 40 years.

This is also an area that's been subject to a fair amount of attention in the past, going back to 1979, when a bill was introduced in Congress, never enacted to create a national conservation area. And this is -- after Secretary Babbitt, a year, year-and-a-half ago began to pay some visits to this area and raised the issue of whether this archeological region should be protected. Senator Campbell and Congressman McInnis -- Scott McInnis, who is also Republican and whose district this includes area, introduced bills that would create national conservation areas that are not too dissimilar from the protection afforded by the monument. Clearly, they made a decision not to push those bills forward, and the President's made a decision to protect those areas through executive action.

The fourth monument is Ironwood Forest National Monument, about 135,000 acres of Sonoran desert land near Tucson, which is -- the Ironwood tree is a particularly interesting primary nurse plant in that area, supports a lot of other species, lives to be more than 800 years old. And this is an area threatened by urban -- suburban sprawl, continued to be managed by the Bureau of Land Management, and actually his secretary worked pretty closely with the two county boards of commissioners there, Pima County and Pinal County, and they developed some of the plans that are incorporated in the monument, so this is something that's come up from the counties, and the local tribe very supportive as well.

Finally, just a note. All of these monuments are applicable only to the public land, land that's already managed by federal agencies. There are private land in-holdings within -- not at Hanford, but within the other three. But the monument proclamations pertain only to public land, existing federal land that do not cover any of the private land that's within the boundaries, and there's no impact on valid existing rights that may exist with respect to the public lands.

So this is no new federal land; it's existing federal land. It's been managed to some protective degree over a long period of time, and this is making permanent, a slightly higher level of protection in each case.

Finally, before we take questions, I just want to direct your attention to one of several dozen anti-environmental riders that are now moving their way through the appropriations process. They seemed to have grown like kudzu, moving from one bill to another, this year. And that's a rider that would block funding for any of the monuments that the President has created this year. So that includes the North Room of the Grand Canyon, and Sequoia National Monument, as well as several others, as well as the ones that he has done today.

That rider would actually take us backwards, because it would prevent even the funding appropriation or the use of monies for the kind of protection that the federal agencies now extend, or have extended in the past, for example in the Sequoia National Forest, for these areas. So that rider takes us backwards, and the riders on blocking action on global warming; a cafe rider preventing further fuel efficiency; advances in the Senate that will be the subject of contest next week, preventing reform at the Army Corps of Engineers; pesticide safety standards, river protection, and a number of others. So it looks like we're looking at the same kind of battle over anti-environmental riders this year that we have the last few couple of years.

I'm happy to take questions to me or to John.

Q Who is sponsoring that monument rider? Who is it sponsored by?

MR. FRAMPTON: The suggestion is Congressman Hansen, but I'm not -- it sounds right, but I'm not sure. We'll check for you.

Q Would you veto an appropriations bill with that rider in it?

MR. FRAMPTON: Well, I think that the administration has already sent statements of the administration position up on a number of bills that have not only inadequate funding, but sets of riders on them, with the veto threat -- not specific to any one rider. But I think this one is obviously not only a direct challenge to an executive authority that the President takes very seriously and is using for permanent protection of resources, but also, in terms of these areas, would take us backward, so you'd have no protection for the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, conceivably no protection for sequoia groves in California. So I think this one sticks up pretty high on the radar screen.

Q The Republicans say they do that because they're worried more monuments are coming -- is this it, or are there more monuments?

MR. FRAMPTON: Well, I've been asked that question before, and I'll say the same thing, which is I'm not, obviously, going to pre-judge the President. This is a unique presidential authority. It's not a secret that Secretary Babbitt has been talking to people about a number of areas, additional areas other than those that the President has protected as monuments.

I will say, though, that in the case of some of those areas, that that discussion has catalyzed legislative or local efforts to look at other ways to protect these areas, other than national monuments. So, for example, Steens Mountain, Oregon, there is a very spirited discussion going on among the delegation; local people, in a bipartisan way, looking to see whether legislation to protect some of that area would be something that the entire delegation would get behind.

There is legislation that has been introduced on the area of Palm Springs -- Santa Rosa Mountains, by Congressman Mary Bono, who is a Republican, that accomplishes many of the same goals. There is some legislation that has been introduced by Lois Capps in California, Congressman Capps, on Carrizo Plain, which the administration has taken a position that we're not satisfied with that.

But my point is that there are discussions and efforts at legislation going on that could bring needed protection to some of these other areas without the President ultimately having to act on it. And that's exactly what the Secretary has said every time he's been out here: these places need some protection, I'd like for the delegations of the governor and the local people to look at this.

Q What about the legislation on the Colorado area, that's next to the Colorado National Monument that McInnis is --

MR. FRAMPTON: Sand dunes? Are you talking about the Colorado Monument?

Q There is an area -- it's the Black Ridge, I think next to the Colorado National Monument. Is that along that same track that you were talking of?

MR. LESHY: Congressman McInnis is the local congressman there, and I think we're working with him on trying to put together a legislative proposal. So it sort of fits introduced same category.

Q That's going ahead satisfactorily?

MR. LESHY: So far. I mean, we're in discussions. The Secretary has been out there a couple of times.

MR. FRAMPTON: I just want to call your attention to another proposal, which is Secretary Babbitt has also been out with both the Republican and Democratic members of the Colorado delegation to look at Great Sand Dunes National Monument, and there's a proposal now to expand that and create a national park. And to add a very important piece of privately-owned property called Baca Ranch, this is not Baca, New Mexico, this is Baca II in Colorado, and the administration did put money -- some money in it's FY 2001 budget request to acquire this area. So that's another prospective national monument or even national park area in Colorado.

Q Is that being blocked by Congressman --

MR. FRAMPTON: That's correct. I think he's the only member of the delegation, Colorado delegation who is not in favor of this.

Q Senator Gorton, Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, who is in a position to do something about this, is especially livid about the Hanford Reach National Monument. He says there's no particular threat at the moment, that you're ignoring the wishes of the local people. How do you respond to that and have you talked to the Senator at all about it?

MR. FRAMPTON: I've talked to him about it in the past, not in the last few days. I think that actually, there has been a very extensive public process on the Hanford Reach, going back more than a decade. Congress required a study in 1988, which was completed in 1994, a big EIS. There was a lot of public involvement and public comment in that process. DOE has done a major environmental impact statement on its overall management of the Hanford reservation lands just completed last year, 1999, extensive public comment.

Both of those processes resulted in recommendations that are mirrored in the monument, which is that the river would be protected, the reach would be protected, the north slope would become a national wildlife refuge, or managed for ecological values by the Fish and Wildlife Service.

There has been legislation to create a wild and scenic river, there have been congressional hearings. The local Congressman, Doc Hastings, introduced legislation that would basically turn some of this land back over to the local people. That didn't go anywhere. I mean, I think you've had an extensive process here. Local people have been participating in this, and there are a lot of them who are very, very committed to protecting the reef for a decade. And I think the people have spoken. And this is basically recognizing the end of that process, in which local views have been taken into account very extensively.

So this is an example -- to the contrary -- this is an example in which there has been a terrific local process. And some of the local people would like to get this land away from the federal government, but that's not ultimately the decision that the President made.

Q I understand that the Vice President's office was going to announce it initially -- out in Oregon -- and previously this has been a matter of the President -- why the difference now?

MR. FRAMPTON: Well, actually the President and Vice President have been working on these issues protecting these areas and values for seven and a half years together pretty extensively. In this case, the recommendations came from the Secretary. The President came back from Japan, wanted that these proclamations were ready to sign, and the Vice President had a very long scheduled trip to address the Conference of Mayors in Seattle today. And so, it seemed natural that he would announce the one in Washington. In fact, it might have seemed a little peculiar if he went to Washington state in Seattle and Spokane, and never said anything about it.

Q It has nothing to do with his own presidential aspirations?

MR. FRAMPTON: These monuments have to do with the national legacy of these places. That's the way the President's viewed it; that's the way the Vice President's viewed it.

Q Do you have a tally at this point of how many acres the Clinton administration has set aside in monuments, and how that compares to other previous Presidents?

MR. FRAMPTON: I'm sure we have a number, but even before these monuments, I believe that President Clinton had set aside more acres than any other President since T.R., in the lower 48 states. And I think we've said that because Jimmy Carter used the Antiquities Act for what was a provisional monument designation in Alaska that's more acres. But ultimately, this is not about acres, this is not a race on acres -- acre contest. It's really about the places, and I think, from the beginning, Secretary Babbitt said in his recommendations, and this is the same for Sequoia National Monument -- there are other ways to protect these places -- legislation, local agreements, and in some cases, those are preferable And certainly might come ahead of monument designation.

Q What distinguishes these from ones that weren't selected, that were under consideration, but not designated?

MR. FRAMPTON: Well, I mentioned three where there is a local process that's very active for discussions or legislation pending. There are one or two others where I think the Secretary is still talking to people. In each of these cases you have a lot of support from, from example, Hanford Soda Mountain, you have sort of a delegation, at least most of the delegation -- you have the governors in support. So it's a process. And the Secretary has tried to move this process forward to a point where he thinks that there is a real shot at protection in some other way; or that chance is not likely to be realized and it's time to look at a monument. So it's really a function of where these various places are in the process, rather than --

Q -- even a threat to any of these areas? I know the critics in Washington are saying that -- there's no imminent threat to it --

MR. FRAMPTON: Well, I would say this about Hanford Reach, that after 12 years of looking at trying to put in place permanent protection, there are those who certainly felt -- including Patty Murray and Norm Dicks and Governor Locke, people who have been working on this for a decade, who felt it was time to put that permanent protection in place. I mean, we're not looking necessarily at a threat next year; we're looking at what the long-term prospects are.

And the same for Southwestern Colorado -- you know, you have a situation where -- I don't know if you've been in Durango recently, but increasingly these areas are subject to vandalism, a lot more people. There is no real protective regime in place. And we hope that the monument proclamations will step up the level of protection significantly.

Q You mentioned the local negotiation on Steens. Would you expect those kinds of negotiations that have local efforts to produce stronger, better protections over the long haul than a monument designation, which could be ignored by a future President?

MR. FRAMPTON: Well, it's conceivable that -- the Antiquities Act, after all, is not legislation. And, conceivable, legislation could be worked out that would do some things that it's difficult to do with the Antiquities Act. So each tool might be slightly different. The substantial goal would be the same -- protecting the resources.

It is true that a future Congress could legislate to change a national monument, but that's never happened. And we have almost every president, we now have 115 or something, 120 national monuments created by presidents in the past, and there's never been a case where a president or a subsequent Congress undid the monument. So I think that's -- frankly, I think that while in some cases there is local opposition to some of the monuments that President Clinton has created, these are proving to be very, very popular.

MR. LESHY: Can I make one small -- very small correction. There are a handful of very small monuments -- I can't give you the exact number -- five or six, that are the tiny little postage stamp ones that Congress has actually undone in subsequent years, but none of the significant ones. Congress has always, in fact, moved in the opposite direction. That is, they eventually sort of ratify them or confirm them, turn them into national parks or something like that.

Q My question was more just to the intent, and also you've mentioned things like the leases that would expire or could be bought up -- my understanding is, with Steens, for example, that's being done, that's been worked out on the front end as opposed to on the back end. I guess -- you know, could a future president ignore some of these designations and let them be the way they are pretty much?

MR. LESHY: The proclamations are law. I mean, Congress has given the President authority to protect these areas permanently, and that's what he's doing. So a future Congress can undo them, but a future president can't ignore the proclamations as long as they're there, because they provide permanent legal protection.

Q Secretary Babbitt, earlier this year, told the Utah Governor and delegation that he wasn't planning on any more monuments there as long as -- with Congressman Hansen apparently behind this rider to abandon funding for other monuments, would that raise questions about that bill and whether it's still in force or not?

MR. LESHY: Secretary Babbitt has not monuments in Utah under study, and I don't think that's going to change in the foreseeable future.

Q On the Canyons of the Ancients, you've mentioned -- I thought I heard you mention a phasing out of reservoirs.

MR. FRAMPTON: A playing out of reservoirs.

Q Okay. Can you explain that?

MR. FRAMPTON: The proclamation provides a substantial portion of the areas leased, and there are producing CO2 and some oil and gas wells. But they're focused on a couple of specific underground reservoirs. The proclamation provides that existing leases may continue -- John will correct me if I get it wrong -- existing leases will continue, but in a way that isn't -- unless they cause new impacts on the protected resources.

So, basically, existing wells will continue to produce. New leasing -- that is, new wells -- will be permitted, but only when it is designed to play out the existing reservoir or dome of CO2. So, basically it's saying, we're going to freeze the status quo. There may be a case where an existing well should be replaced by another well which is in a better place. We're going to play out -- but no new exploration. We're not going to spread the footprint out any. So, we're going to play out the existing fields or the existing domes until they're empty. And then, everything goes away.

Q Why not just ban new drilling?

MR. FRAMPTON: Well, you want to talk about the specific --

MR. LESHY: In part, these companies have valid leases -- their valid existing rights. And so, we would have to buy them out if we wanted to shut the industry down. But frankly, the fact that this industry has been able to coexist with these archaeological resources is a good sign. We obviously wouldn't be protecting them if they weren't there being preserved while the development goes on. This oil and gas CO2 development had existed for, I think, 20 years down there. So we just didn't feel a need that we had to go in given the preservation that's taken place that's coexisted with the industry to buy them out. We think that resource can be played out; can be extracted. Then the industry goes away; the objects will be preserved; and everybody will be happy.

Q -- some kind of recommendation on Missouri River Breaks and Crater -- places where there will not be --

MR. LESHY: Well, on Craters and on Missouri Breaks, the discussions are continuing. I think the Secretary has some more meetings about it next week with Senator Burns. And as George was saying, this is a process -- each one of these has a little different history, wrinkly, set of discussions, local players, et cetera. So I can't make any predictions. We're still in active discussion.

Q -- specific criteria or is there broad discretion --

MR. LESHY: There are specific criteria, but I would say that the discretion is fairly broad, in terms of specific places. Thanks a lot.

END 12:10 P.M. EDT