Early this week there was  a story on the Associated Press about President Donald Trump’s Secretary of the Interior recommending six national monuments be reduced in size.

The outcry was expected and right on cue.

From AP:

Jamie Williams, president of the Wilderness Society, said the recommendations apparently made by Zinke "represent an unprecedented assault on our parks and public lands" by the Trump administration.

"This callous proposal will needlessly punish local, predominantly rural communities that depend on parks and public lands for outdoor recreation, sustainable jobs and economic growth," Williams said in a statement.

OK, cool.

But I happened to notice that one of the “monuments” in consideration for downsizing was the Grand Staircase Escalante in Utah.

That jogged my memory. I recalled a column I wrote when President Bill Clinton created that giant monument with the swipe of a pen.

Under the headline, “Utah, Lippo And A Little Quid Pro Coal,” this column appeared in the March 29, 1997 edition of your Times-Union.

Despite being 20 years old, I think it remains relevant today, shedding some light on the business of naming this particular national monument.


For those who think the flap over the Democratic National Committee's fund-raising and ties to Indonesia are much ado about nothing, I offer the following:

Last September, President Clinton issued an executive order designating 1.7 million acres in Southwest Utah a national monument. It is called the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. At the time, Clinton talked about the stunning natural beauty of this very remote area.

It has plenty of natural beauty. It is high desert country encompassing the Kaiparowits Plateau, the canyons of the Escalante River and the Grand Staircase – the Pink Cliffs, Gray Cliffs, White Cliffs, Vermillion Cliffs and Chocolate Cliffs. All together, the new national monument comprises 2,650 square miles of rock formations, desert creeks, springs, lava fields, slot canyons, natural bridges, arches, ancient Anasazi sites and historical sites of early pioneers.

Clinton's executive order was a huge victory for environmentalists.

But it was a vastly more significant victory for some others group – the Lippo Group and the Indonesian coal industry.

The Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument is home to approximately $1 trillion of what the mining industry calls "supercompliance" coal.

According to a report in the New York Times, the Kaiparowits Plateau holds the world's single largest deposit of environment-friendly coal – seven billion tons.

The coal found there is low sulfur, low ash and therefore, low polluting. That type of coal isn't found just anywhere.

In fact, there are only two other places in the world where that type of coal is known to exist in quantities worth mining. Colombia, in South America, where no mining or shipping infrastructure exists and, well, take a wild guess.

The South Kalimantan coal fields of Borneo, Indonesia.

Clinton's executive order precludes any mining of the Kaiparowits Plateau. Keeping all that U.S. coal off the world market dramatically increases the value of Indonesian coal.

In ordering the monument status, Clinton said, "Mining jobs are good jobs, and mining is important to our national economy and to national security. But, we can't have mines everywhere, and we shouldn't have mines that threaten our national treasures."

Very politically correct.

It's true that a Kentucky-based mining company, Andalex Resources Inc., had a mining lease and was planning to mine coal from the Kaiparowits. But that was for 25,000 acres – a fraction of the 1.7 million acres in the monument area.

And the plan was for underground mining – not strip mining. Clinton's order easily could have accommodated mining and monument.

According to the Salt Lake City Tribune, some people in Utah wore black armbands on the day of the announcement. In an open letter to the president, residents of Kane County, Utah, pleaded against the designation, citing all manner of economic harm.

A reporter named Sarah Foster broke this story in a mining industry newsletter – Land Rights Letter – last fall around election time. Of course, this was a story the mainstream national media weren't interested in telling.

Foster wrote: "With a stroke of his pen he (Clinton) wiped out the only significant competition to Indonesian coal interests in the world market before it even got started, a move that at the same time relegates this country to importer status. His edict will force us into eventual dependency on foreign producers of coal as we are presently dependent on overseas sources for oil. ..."

The rise in demand for Indonesian coal is already creating somewhat of a construction boom in that country. Foster noted that to handle the shipping of increased coal production, new shipping terminals are being planned. Do you imagine the Lippo group of companies will be overlooked when it comes to awarding construction contracts?

Do you have any idea what it costs to build a shipping terminal? Let's just say that it's a highly profitable venture and leave it at that.

Of course, it's common knowledge now that the Clinton administration has a direct link to the Lippo group through John Huang. Huang was a former Lippo employee. He left Lippo to become a U.S. Commerce Department official. He's also the guy who funneled a bunch of possibly illegal contributions from Asians into Democratic campaign coffers.

Further, Ed Lupberger is the CEO of Entergy Corporation based in Little Rock and New Orleans. Lupberger was chosen to join Commerce Secretary Ron Brown on a trade mission to China and Indonesia in 1994.

During that trade mission, an unprecedented billion-dollar deal was struck. Entergy and Lippo would jointly develop a coal-fired power plant in China's Shanxi Province.

I wonder where they will get the coal?

At the same time, Entergy was allowed to join a group of Indonesian power companies who are constructing coal-burning power plants throughout the Indonesian islands.

If one looks at Federal Election Commission records, one will note that approximately $330,000 in soft money was given to the Democratic party by Entergy.

Lupberger really got the most for his $330K. He gets sent on a trade mission where he wraps up mega coal-fired power plant deals. Then the president – in the name of "saving the Grand Escalante Canyons and the Kaiparowits Plateaus of Utah for our children" – puts a lock on the world's largest environment-friendly coal reserve. This virtually assures that the coal to fire these plants will come from Indonesia, the home of Entergy's partner – Lippo.

I suppose all this could be innocent. I suppose President Clinton could have decided that it simply was in the nation's best interest to use that coal reserve as a national monument.

And all the ties with Indonesia and Little Rock could just be a huge coincidence.

I suppose.

But as Clinton supporters like to say, "Hey, I don't see any indictments, yet." Wow. There's a ringing endorsement. Coalgate – another scandal President Clinton won't be indicted for.

All that aside, I have questions. Why is it that most people reading this column are probably hearing about it for the first time? Why is it that this is not news? Why aren't Brokaw, Rather and Jennings talking about it?

I would like an honest explanation.

There was a time when selling out U.S. interests for campaign contributions and the profitability of some foreign conglomerate would be called treason.

But those days are gone. Today, it's just good business. And besides, nobody's been indicted yet, right?

That column is more than 20 years old. Weird how some things just never change.