Addressing the U.S. House of Representatives, congresswoman Helen Chenoweth exposed a carefully designed plan which could have disastrous results to the U.S. "Mr. Speaker, I rise to alert my colleagues, and inform our constituents, of the most recent assault by the Clinton Administration on private property rights, states rights, and western values -- and that is the American Heritage Rivers Initiative (AHRI), created and tendered solely by the White House and executed without congressional approval."
The official title and description of the proposal seems benign and even beneficial. The Administration's spokeswoman for the initiative is Katy McGinty of the Counsel on Environmental Quality (CEQ), and the following is their stated rationale for instituting this regulatory venture.
The President first made public the idea in his State of the Union address in February and the American Heritage Rivers Initiative was entered in the Federal Register on May 19, 1997 by the CEQ. Its implied purpose is to make federal assistance more available to local communities in the effort to revitalize their waterfronts, preserve local history and protect the environment. President Clinton says he is creating the initiative to protect and restore America's great rivers. One of his objectives is "to enhance our citizens' enjoyment of the historic, cultural, recreational, economic and environmental value of our rivers."
Ostensibly presented as a way to restore the nation's 3.5 million miles of rivers and streams, the initiative contains wording that implies that it could actually be a means for the federal government to regulate the country's waterways, and even more.
The innocuous sounding proposal may well be much more ominous than it appears on the surface. The initiative goes beyond the regulation of rivers alone to include communities and whole watersheds. This literally could be from mountain to mountaintop and, considering that the Mississippi River water- shed drains nearly 40 percent of the continental United States, it could have a monumental impact on the country.
Congresswoman Chenoweth testified further. "Mr. Speaker, I have grave concerns about this initiative. The Administration has demonstrated an absolute lack of regard for our nation's law." Partly at issue is the requirement for a 90-day public comment period after listing it in the Federal Register. But this proposal had only a 3-week public comment period, instead of the required three months, a clear violation of the Administrative Procedures Act. Another congressional source said, "the whole thing was done too quickly and too quietly."
At issue as well is the designation process for rivers which entirely circumvents the state legislatures. Any group or individual can nominate a river and, without legislative approval, that portion of state or private land comes under the jurisdiction of the "river community". There are no built-in limits to the size of the river community which is an undefined entity. The initiative requires partnership agreements to be instituted between the federal government, local and regional government, and the river community. The document also discusses implementing SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT, the United Nations' veiled terminology used extensively in their document for the emerging world government, AGENDA 21.
This initiative, if implemented, would change the constitutionally protected policies that govern the nation's waterways. The Supreme Court has ruled time after time that it is the states (in the west) that control the water. In California vs. U.S. (1978) the court said, "To take from the legislatures of the various states and territories the control of water at the present time would be something less than suicidal. If the appropriation and use were not under the provisions of state law, the utmost confusion would prevail."
Mrs. Chenoweth continues, "Mr. Speaker, Idaho code states, 'All waters of the state when flowing in their natural channels, including the waters of all natural springs and lakes within the boundaries of the state are declared to be the property of the state, whose duty it shall be to supervise their appropriation and allotment.' Mr. Speaker, how can the Clinton Administration assert control over something it clearly does not own and (which) is so important to our state?"
According to a Capitol Hill source, an initiative can be listed in the Federal Register and, after allowing for a period of public comment, if no legislation opposing it has been introduced, the initiative becomes a binding regulation, carrying the same effect as law. In this case, the CEQ, an agency of the Clinton Administration, listed the initiative but allowed only a brief period for public comment and did not file the required environmental impact statement. After broad based opposition, the CEQ and the White House have agreed to extend the comment period sixty days. According to a press release from U.S. Representative Jim Hansen of Utah, "the CEQ rationale for not extending the comment period 90 days, was that they did not want to delay the process the applicants (for AHRI) are undergoing." Incredibly, the White House and the CEQ are proceeding as if the initiative had already been granted approval. They have already enrolled applicants into the unsanctioned program.
The very nature of how this proposal was created raises many serious questions. Inquiries made by this reporter to several congressional offices provide further insight into the perceptions of other lawmakers regarding this initiative. "They're trying to rush it through and get the program in place." "They want to establish a special designation for rivers outside of a congressional designation." They tried "to keep the public comment period short so they wouldn't have a lot of comment." "It looks like a big land grab."
This proposal bears similarities to the action which the President took last year in what many are calling the Utah land grab. Mr. Clinton invoked the 1906 Antiquities Act to declare nearly two million acres of Utah land to be a National Monument. This massive land confiscation came not as the result of legislation, but simply by Executive Order. The land includes hundreds of thousands of acres of private land and 200,000 acres of State Trust land. Louise Liston, chairwoman of the Garfield County Commissioners said, "there's tens of billions of tons of that high quality coal in that monument. In fact, there's trillions of cubic feet of natural gas, and as many as three million tons of zirconium and titanium - a strategic metal that is used by the Department of Defense. And there's billions of barrels of oil. In fact, our state geologist has said that's probably the nation's greatest untapped resources in that area that the monument now sits on."
Not only did the state of Utah not have the opportunity for comment or input on this designation, but the state was not even notified of it until the morning of the President's announcement.
Senator Larry Craig considered legislation aimed at preventing such seizure in the state of Idaho. He said his bill would "stop any midnight land grabs by Bill Clinton and Bruce Babbitt. There can't be anymore back room Washington deals, especially when it comes to Idaho land."
With more than fifty percent of the land in western states already under federal control, is there need to increase the already excessive domination of lands by the federal government? Representative Chenoweth, along with 21 co-sponsors, has introduced H.R. 1842 which will cut off funding for the ill conceived American Heritage Rivers Initiative. Most Americans want to preserve their natural heritage, but the heavy-handed tactics which the government has been employing are inconsistent with true American heritage. As one lawmaker said, [our people] "should not have to wake up and read in the morning paper to find out that a national monument has been created in their backyard" or that their river has been given away.
The Administration has chosen its words carefully when describing this AHRI plan. They talk of preserving our heritage, enhancing our enjoyment and protecting our future. But if we examine the real intent of this and other seemingly benevolent programs, it becomes apparent that the actual effect is to relentlessly destroy our true heritage.
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