GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK, Ariz., Sept. 18 -- Standing before the spectacular backdrop of the Grand Canyon, President Clinton Wednesday ordered new federal protections aimed at blocking a major coal mine on a 1.7 million-acre expanse of land 70 miles north in Utah. 'Very few things we have done will have more lasting effect than this,' Clinton declared in ordering the creation of the 'Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument.' Clinton issued the order, which effectively blocks plans by a Dutch company to begin cutting out an estimated 7 billion tons of coal, despite fierce opposition from elected leaders in Utah. But White House officials said the idea of such land preservation is overwhelmingly popular with Americans in general and they urged the Utah leaders to work with them on developing a long-term plan for protecting the area. 'Mining jobs are good jobs, and mining is important to our national economy, and to our national security,' Clinton said. 'But we can't have mines everywhere, and we shouldn't have mines that threaten our national treasures.' Although his order affected a site many miles away, White House officials said Clinton came to the majestic, sun-bathed walls of the Grand Canyon because it was the nearest accessible site. The choice, however, allowed Clinton and Vice President Al Gore to order the designation at the same site along the Grand Canyon where President Teddy Roosevelt in 1908 first declared the 800,000-acre area a national monument. Environmentalists strongly praised Clinton's action. 'This is without a doubt President Clinton's boldest environmental initiative,' Sierra Club President Adam Werbach said in a statement.
'These lands have long been recognized as some of the most beautiful in the world.' Wrapping up a series of talks between administration officials and opponents, Clinton remained up past midnight the previous evening in Chicago speaking with Republican Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt and Rep. William Orton, D-Utah, trying to address their concerns, White House press secretary Mike McCurry said. The designation as a national landmark, which does not require congressional approval, would largely block plans by a Dutch-owned mining company, Andalex Resources, to begin digging one of the nation's largest known coal reserves. The deposits beneath the Kaiparowits Plateau are believed to hold nearly 7 billion tons of coal worth as much as $1 trillion, and Andalex has said its mine would employ some 900 people. Andalex still retains its rights to mine the land, but would be blocked by the president's designation from building the roads believed necessary to make such an operation viable. Leavitt, who met administration officials Tuesday in Washington, had been pushing an alternative plan that would classify the land by zones, making some parts tightly regulated wilderness lands and leaving other areas as 'enterprise lands' where development would be encouraged. Clinton's trip to the Grand Canyon, which is southwest of the land targeted for protection, follows a similar visit last month to Yellowstone National Park, where he announced a deal under which Crown Butte Mines agreed to give up its controversial plans to develop a major gold mine just outside Yellowstone in exchange for $65 million worth of federal land elsewhere. Administration officials indicated they were trying to work out a similar deal with Andalex, but the company has said it plans to fight a national monument designation. Administration officials said they also were seeking to compensate the state of Utah for the loss of public land it controlled. The other major holder of a federal coal lease in the Escalante area of southern Utah, PacifiCorp, signed an agreement last Friday with the Interior Department to relinquish 18,000 acres of federal leases in the Kaiparowits Plateau for credits toward leases in other areas. Clinton visited Arizona on the second day of a four-day, six-state campaign trip that began Tuesday with stops in Michigan and Illinois, and was to continue afterward with visits to Washington state, Oregon and South Dakota. It was the president's second visit within a week to Arizona, which a Democratic presidential candidate has not won since 1948. Recent polls, however, have shown Clinton leading Republican challenger Bob Dole by nearly 10 percentage points in the state. The state's two Republican senators, Orrin Hatch and Robert Bennett, also had been meeting administration officials but appeared resigned to a longer fight against Clinton's expected action. Hatch angrily declared Tuesday 'there's going to be hell to pay' if the president moves ahead with his plan. McCurry argued, however, that claims by opponents such as Hatch that Clinton was acting out of election-year political considerations 'would seem to acknowledge there are significant numbers of people who understand the importance of protecting this region.' As part of the administration's efforts to meet the concerns of its opponents, the order will keep the land under the management of the Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management, rather than the National Park Service, to keep it under the control of the agency most familiar with it. In addition, the order will make no changes in rules allowing hunting, fishing or grazing, and the federal government will not claim any new federal water rights, Clinton said. The administration is confident that in using the 1906 Antiquities Act tomake the national landmark designation, Clinton is making 'an appropriate legal use of his executive power as president,' McCurry said. He said the law has been used by presidents throughout the decades to protect important lands and objects, although he noted Presidents Nixon, Reagan and Bush did not believe in such actions. McCurry said the Andalex mine 'would have dramatically changed the nature of this area,' which is home to ancient native American sites and fossil recovery operations. 'This is an area of scientific, historical, cultural and environmental significance that the president felt must be protected,' he said. He said environmental activists wanted to protect nearly 6 million acres of land in southern Utah. The area designated Wednesday by Clinton had been under study for 15 years and was seen as 'most urgently in need of protection.' McCurry in particular blamed Republican lawmakers for forcing Clinton's action by seeking legislation in 1994 that would have expanded mineral mining activities in the newly designated area. Late Tuesday, administration officials and representatives of 15 timber companies signed an agreement under which old growth timber sales in the Pacific Northwest will be replaced with 176 million board feet from alternative sources. The U.S. Forest Service will identify the alternative timber areas between 1997 and 1999.