A federal judge has been asked by a conservative states’ rights advocacy group to overturn President Clinton’s Sept. 18 declaration of a 1.7 million-acre national monument in southern Utah.
The Western States Coalition’s suit makes the request of U.S. District Court Judge J. Thomas Greene, arguing Clinton overstepped his authority in creating the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
The plaintiffs contend the 1906 Antiquities Act limits monument tatus to landmarks, historic structures and “the smallest area” necessary to preserve such objects - not, the suit says, 1.7 million acres.
The suit, co-filed by the Denver-based Mountain States Legal Foundation, alleges Clinton violated the act’s provision that presidentially declared monuments “be confined to the smallest area” possible.
The monument, including Utah school trust lands, is too large and should be limited to about 300,000 acres, the complaint argues.
The remaining 1.4 million acres - which contains massive coal, oil and gas reserves - fail to meet the standards of the Antiquities Act, the suit says.
Scott Matheson Jr., the Clinton-appointed U.S. Attorney for Utah whose office likely will help defend Clinton and Babbitt against the suit, declined to discuss the issue when reached Friday afternoon.
It was the first lawsuit to challenge the president’s declaration, but it might not be the last.
Mark Walsh of the Utah Association of Counties said his organization is also considering suing.
“Many of us believe the president, if he didn’t abuse the letter of the law, he certainly abused (its) spirit in what he did.
He overstepped his bounds to shut down mining, and that’s not a proper use of the Antiquities Act.”
The declaration “just smacks of election-year politics and was done against the people of Utah, which is a cowardly act,” Walsh said.
Republican Gov. Mike Leavitt declined to comment on the substance of the new lawsuit, but reiterated his objections to the process used to create the monument.
He said the state has made no decision about a lawsuit of its own, but noted that suits “are started so easily but are so hard to finish.”
Met Johnson of New Harmony, the coalition executive director, said Clinton “dealt a blow to Utahns by catering to environmental extremists.”