‘Failure’ of Grand Staircase-Escalante Monument due to negative economic impact

The executive action instantaneously shut down a major American coal operation, killing thousands of jobs and driving a regulatory stake into the heart of Utah’s coal country.  It was widely reported that Clinton’s designation had little to do with environmental protection or the preservation of antiquities, and everything to do with a political payoff.

by Marjorie Haun

A July 10 article published by a green magazine based in Colorado blamed Mormons, a lack of funding, ‘political pressures,’ county commissioners and just about every scapegoat imaginable for the unpopularity and shortcomings of the vast Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM). But the Mormon pioneer descendants and other folks who’ve made their homes in the region and are still trying to eke out a living by ranching, mining, running small businesses, and keeping their towns afloat, would tell you that the monument’s so-called failure is the result of its restrictive, economically-limiting ‘protected’ status.

In a signing ceremony held in Arizona in 1996, President Clinton, at the urging of environmentalist special interests, used the Antiquities Act to designate 1.9 million acres in central southern Utah as a national monument. The executive action instantaneously shut down a major American coal operation, killing thousands of jobs and driving a regulatory stake into the heart of Utah’s coal country.  It was widely reported that Clinton’s designation had little to do with environmental protection or the preservation of antiquities, and everything to do with a political payoff. The clean coal located within the boundaries of the GSENM had an estimated value of $1 Trillion. Being locked away from development drove the practical value of that coal to $0, while, with the stroke of a pen, other foreign sources of clean coal became much more desirable and profitable. In 1998 WND reported:

Clinton didn’t mention that the coal he was effectively locking away was a low-sulfur, clean-burning coal called “compliance coal,” so-named because it meets requirements set by the EPA. It is in demand worldwide as a fuel for electric plants. Nor did he mention that one of the only other places in the world where comparable coal is found is Indonesia, the home of Mochtar and James Riady, the Chinese government-connected billionaires who poured millions of dollars into Clinton campaigns in 1992 and 1996.

But controversy surrounding GSENM went beyond Clinton’s motives for locking up this immense portion of southern Utah, to his methods, which caught the eyes of many in Congress, especially then-Utah Rep. James Hansen. WND also reported:

The House Resources Committee has been investigating what went on behind the scenes in the establishment of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and why it was done in the first place. “Monumental Abuse” contradicts the official version at every point.

The White House claims designation was necessary to protect a fragile and important ecosystem in southwest Utah from mining and development. In particular, the president wanted to include the 1,650-square-mile Kaiparowits Plateau within the monument to save it from an impending mining operation. The Kaiparowits Plateau contains the largest undeveloped coal field in the country and was to be developed by Andalex Resources, Inc., which held the leases on 34,000 acres. Most of the paperwork had been completed and the project was on track. Andalex planned on mining 100 to 120 million tons of coal over a 45-year period.


The earlier report revealed that the administration, notably the President’s Council on Environmental Quality, knew that the monument area wasn’t “threatened” or even particularly significant. The Kaiparowits Plateau wasn’t part of the monument considerations until months into the process. The CEQ had been looking at other areas for Clinton to designate, like areas near Arches and Canyonland National Parks and Lake Powell.

Nearly two decades after its creation, GSENM and its restrictions had nearly emptied the small towns in Garfield County. In a June, 2015 resolution calling for the renewal of extractive industries in the region, Garfield County Commissioners declared a ‘state of economic emergency.’ The Deseret News Reported: 

 Garfield County commissioners officially declared a state of emergency Monday for declining school enrollment, an issue they say reflects a larger problem that has been threatening their communities for decades.

The drop in students — nearly 300 in the last 18 years — depicts a phenomenon that they say is dampening economic opportunity and fragmenting their community’s once robust family presence.

Leland Pollock, Garfield County Commission chairman, said the county’s struggles began with the creation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in 1996, which he said designated 93 percent of the county as federal land and ultimately led to the demise of a once rich economy built from natural resource extraction industries.

Pollock said those restrictions have reduced most job opportunities to tourism, which only attracts seasonal workers and does not appeal to family men and women. That’s why families who have lived in Garfield County for generations are splitting as their children move away in search of more opportunity, he said.

“If you lose the school, you lose the community,” Pollock said, because no family would have any desire to move to a town without a school for their children.

Clinton’s executive action dealt a painful economic blow to thousands of coal jobs, and by extension many small businesses and families. And the ranchers, whose ancestors settled this region of Utah over a century ago, have been incrementally driven off their grazing lands.  ‘Conservation lands’ purchased by environmentalist groups at the expense of grazing rights have decreased grazing allotments in the region. A 2015 Utah State University study showcased the economic benefits of grazing in and near GSENM, nevertheless, the trend–as with virtually all federally ‘protected’ areas–is a slow shift from diverse, resource-based industries to ‘recreational tourism only’ economies. And despite attempts by green groups, such as the ‘GSENM Partners,’ to win the favor of ranchers, there remains a powerful sentiment among southern Utah’s traditional cattlemen and women that they have been ‘failed’ by the existence of GSENM.


Free Range Report recently reported on the fiduciary fornication between the GSENM Bureau of Land Management (BLM) operations and the green ‘GSENM Partners.’ GSENM Partners, with the help of willing BLM agents, has set itself up as a de-facto arm of the BLM office in Kanab, Utah. GSENM Partners appears to have a near-exclusive cooperative agreement with the agency (which is illegal if proven to be true) through which it runs programs at the monument with a stream of grant monies that seem to be renewed regularly with little competition for the monies and scant attention to a review process. This relationship has helped convince the locals in the region that the monument is indeed a failure; a cash cow giving sustenance to environmentalist groups, some of which have radical ideas and use taxpayer dollars to implement anti-extraction, anti-grazing and anti-local agendas.

Examples are rife disproving the grumbling green magazine’s thesis that the monument is a failure because people in Utah don’t like it and are just plain mean. In fact, there is a wellspring of venom flowing through the article in question, so much so that I am indisposed to mention its title. The truth is, the Grand Staircase-Escalante Monument was a one-sided deal pulled off by a progressive president with little input from Utah’s conservative leaders, and zero regard for the devastating economic and cultural impacts it would have on the people who live in its shadow.

The greens are undoubtedly anxious that their delusional public lands Utopia is endangered by a pragmatic new administration which believes in resource development and states’ rights, but more than anything, they sense that their federal cash cow is coming to the end of its proverbial 7 years of fatness.

Free Range Report





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