President Clinton hadn't even finished announcing the new Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument before national environmentalists and Western politicians drew new battle lines over it - and started shooting.
At an outdoor rally just before Clinton's announcement, jubilant environmentalists hailed it as the first step to vast new Utah wilderness areas, vowing not only to fight possible coal mining there, but also to fight paved roads, new campgrounds and even visitors center construction.Across town, stern-faced politicians on Capitol Hill said they are considering a court challenge to dissolve the monument and announced plans to require public and congressional hearings before a president can form such monuments in the future.
They also said they don't trust Clinton's promises to protect hunting, mineral and water rights in the monument, nor vows to exchange any school trust lands or mineral leases that can't be developed. But they vowed to fight for them, and to ensure the monument has proper roads, visitors centers and campgrounds.
"We are in for a protracted period of controversy and difficulty over this issue," Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, told the Senate - also about an hour before the president made his announcement.
Amid sunshine, the Wilderness Society held a celebration for the new monument in Farragut Park near the White House - complete with giant pictures of the Kaiparowits Plateau, a huge cake decorated to look like red rock cliffs and banners thanking Clinton for protecting wilderness.
Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., told the cheering crowd that the 1.7-million-acre monument is the first step toward protecting 5.7 million acres of wilderness in Utah, for which he annually sponsors a bill. "We will not rest until we achieve our full purpose."
He said he will continue to push his bill to ensure the new monument is managed as wilderness without modern improvements, and even said, "I was pleased to hear the president is announcing his decision at the Grand Canyon instead of helicoptering into Escalante" because that helps preserve the pristine and remote nature of the area.
He said while some "would like us to build a highway into this monument, build campgrounds and vis-i-tors centers, gift shops and hotels," he believes it is inappropriate there and would fight such efforts during a three-year process to develop management plans for the monument.
"If you can go to Escalante and Kaiparowits on their own terms, by all means I encourage you to do so," he said.
Throughout the day, spokesmen for The Wilderness Society, the Sierra Club and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance also hailed the monument, saying they also view it as the first step to protection for vast wilderness.
By the time Western lawmakers called a competing late-afternoon press conference on Capitol hill, clouds were dark and threatening - much like the moods of those speaking.
"This declaration has nothing to do with preserving land in southern Utah, which is a goal we all share, and everything to do with scoring political points with a powerful interest group just 48 days before a national election," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.
He said Westerners are considering a possible court challenge to dissolve the monument because it was announced with no prior public hearings, and only quick last-minute consultations with Utah officials, which he said may violate the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) and the Federal Land Protection Management Act (FLPMA).
Hatch said other presidents who used the 1906 Antiquities Act did so before NEPA and FLPMA were passed in 1976 - with the exception of Alaska monuments created by Jimmy Carter in 1978. But Hatch said Carter's action at least came after years of hearings, studies and consultation.
Meanwhile, Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, chairman of a subcommittee overseeing public lands, said he would introduce a bill Thursday to require congressional and public hearings before any such monument is declared in the future - and suggested administration officials may be hauled to his subcommittee to explain secretive actions on the monument.
"To operate in the dark of night outside what is now believed to be the law is something this president will have to be questioned on," Craig said, adding that Clinton's action was "a phenomenal misuse of power."
Bennett said Westerners cannot trust Clinton's vows to protect mineral, hunting and water rights in the monument, especially after his actions during the past 10 days.
"Given the history leading up to this announcement, it's fairly difficult for many people in Utah to trust the administration on this one," he said.
Bennett also warned environmentalists that national monuments are usually roads to national parks - complete with visitors centers, paved roads and improved campgrounds - and not wilderness areas devoid of such im-prove-ments.
"We're now ironically going to see the road that they're trying to stop the (Andalex Resources) coal company from using paved so that tourist buses can go over it," Bennett predicted.
Members of the Utah delegation also said promises to exchange school trust lands and unused mineral leases for other coal lands in the state are hollow, because there essentially are no other available coal lands in the state.
The fights also led to the unusual spectacle of Rep. Bill Orton, D-Utah, attacking his own party and president - along with Republicans, too, saying both sides are too partisan.
He noted he was the only Democrat appearing with numerous Western Republicans at a press conference against the monument. "It's probably because if you look at the land in the West, I'm about the only Democrat representing any of it. There's a reason for that.
"The reason is my party has not been very good at listening to the people trying to work out the issues on a bipartisan basis, and for that I blame my party, I oppose my president and I oppose my party leaders," Orton said.
He added, "The solution is to drop the partisanship, tone down the rhetoric and sit down together to find real solutions" - which he said are possible with concessions the president made.
Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, however, doubted fights ahead will be toned down, smooth or easy. And who will win? "A lot depends on what happens on Nov. 5 in the election," he said.