Words like tyranny, treachery and dictator are usually reserved to describe the leaders of Third World countries.
But on Wednesday, Utah's education community and coalition of elected officials from Western states used those words and others to lambaste President Clinton and his proposal to set aside 1.8 million acres in southern Utah as the Canyons of the Escalante National Monument."It is a felonious assault on the schoolchildren of Utah," said Utah Education Association President Phyllis Sorensen.
"It is a treacherous move (against) our children and this state," said Met Johnson, former Utah state representative and now executive director of the Western States Coalition, a group of 3,500 elected officials from around the West.
Those two organizations were joined in their opposition by the PTA, the Utah Public Education Coalition, the Office of Institutional and Trust Lands Administration and Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife - all of whom criticized Clinton for proposing to unilaterally set aside the lands without public comment or input.
Clinton administration officials leaked news of the proposal to the Washington Post over the weekend, and Utah's governor and congressional delegation have been scrambling ever since to learn details of the proposed monument. It is believed that Clinton has demanded a minimum of 1.8 million acres and that it includes the Kaiparowits Plateau, the Esca-lan-te River area and the Paun-sau-gunt Plateau. It would also include coal reserves in the Kaiparowits Coal Basin south of the Kaiparowits Plateau.
Utah's education community is opposed to the proposal because of the 200,000 acres of school trust lands that would be locked inside the newly created monument. Some of these lands are believed to contain huge coal reserves - some say the largest untapped coal reserves remaining in the United States - that would return an estimated $1 billion to Utah schools.
Trust lands were given to Utah at the time of statehood in exchange for the state forgoing any right to tax the federal government. The Enabling Act specifically states the lands will be held in trust for the benefit of Utah school-children.
"The lands under consideration are used to generate millions of dollars for local education from mining and other activities through a trust compact between the state and federal government," said Margaret Bird, speaking for the trust lands office.
"Without these funds, Utah taxpayers will again be forced to reach in their pockets to pay for the actions of the federal government. More big government, greater bureaucracy and less control of our children's future, that's what this proposal means."
Currently, about 200,000 acres of school trust lands are locked inside national parks, national forests and American Indian reser-va-tions. Called inholdings, these lands do not generate any revenue for the trust.
The board overseeing the trust has spent $3 million in efforts to get the federal government to trade inholdings for lands that could generate money for the trust. To date, no inholdings have been traded.
Would the education community support Clinton's monument proposal if the federal government agrees to compensate the trust for the lost coal revenues? "They need to pay their old debts before they take on new ones," Bird said. "They need to come with money on the table before we will talk."
State representatives from Wyoming, Colorado and Arizona also made appearances at the Capitol to express their opposition to Clinton's proposal.
A handful of conservationists were at the Capitol to show their support for Clinton's plan, but they were asked to be quiet when they tried to speak during the press conference.
"I don't want my children educated with funds from the exploitation of lands," said Gloria Laughlin of Republicans for Environmental Protection. "Why just because it is desolate do we need to suck it dry of its natural resources?"
The coal basin itself was described by monument opponents as a colorless, lifeless region of rolling gray hills without wilderness or park qualities.