The Failure of Congress to Challenge Clinton’s Executive Orders

Statement before the National Conference on Presidential Powers and Executive Orders, Capitol Hill, Washington D.C., July 14, 1999

H.L Mencken once said, “A plan to save humanity is almost always a false front for the urge to rule.”

This administration is full of its own ideas on how to save humanity, and has made it clear that the mission is so urgent there simply isn’t time or inclination to worry about consulting the nation’s legislative bodies before it makes policy.

As a result, the greatest stick-up in human history is well underway and Americans are being told it’s all for their own good. And the deafening silence you hear is the congresses lack of resistance – as America’s liberty disappears under a central organizing theme called environmental protection.

Imagine an America in which a specific “ruling principle” was created to decide proper societal conduct for every citizen. That principle would be used to consider everything you eat, what you wear, the kind of home you live in, the way you get to work, the way you dispose of waste, the number of children you have, even your education and employment decisions.

And imagine that all of these decisions were called “voluntary” – but that the Administration ruling over the vast apparatus of federal government would use its full power to induce what it deems “correct behavior.”


On June 29, 1993, President Clinton issued Executive Order #12852 to create the Council on Sustainable Development. Sustainable Development is the “ruling principle” for the implementation of what Vice President Al Gore says in his book, “Earth in the Balance” that we must all suffer through in order to purify our nation from the horrors of the Twentieth Century’s industrial revolution. In the book he calls it – “a wrenching transformation of society.”

Consequently, Sustainable Development calls for changing the very infrastructure of the nation, away from highways to light rail train systems and bike paths. It is the basis for Al Gore’s war on what he calls urban sprawl.

Under the guidelines of Sustainable Development, suburban housing, air conditioning, high meat intake and frozen and convenience foods, use of fossil fuels, and kitchen appliances are not sustainable. Vast numbers of programs fueled by tax incentives and strong-arm regulations are changing the very way Americans live.

Programs coming out of the President’s Council on Sustainable Development are being used to create curriculum in public schools to assure that students obtain the proper environmental attitudes. Sustainable Development programs are even involved in the creation of national education standards and high school graduation rates. Have you ever wondered what such things have to do with protection of the environment?

Sustainable Development establishes partnerships among federal, regional, state, local and tribal levels of government – and with business. These programs oversee development of private property, housing design, transportation patterns, and the establishment of government data banks.

Sustainable Development even calls for a change in the way communities assess their value. In the past, communities have measured wealth based on their man-made infrastructure such as sewer systems, roads and buildings. Under Sustainable Development, however, the new system is to count trees and wildlife to asses community value – it’s called the “urban forest.”

That means that a developer seeking to cut down trees to build homes will no longer be praised for adding to the value of the community but will, instead, be seen to diminish its value by the destruction of the wildlife. When fully implemented – America’s way of life will be turned upside down.

Agree with the need for it or not – this is a huge change in the way America is structured, influencing the way Americans live.

But the process of implementing Sustainable Development is designed to bypass U.S. Constitutional processes by utilizing non-elected individuals, federal bureaucrats, Non-government organizations (NGO’s) and U.N agencies.

Incredible as it may sound – the very concept of Sustainable Development has never been endorsed or enacted by the U.S. Congress. Executive Order has been the weapon of choice.


A related threat to communities and private property owners located along the nation’s rivers was created on April 7, 1998 through Executive Order #13061 called the American Heritage Rivers Initiative.

This Executive Order, quietly issued while Congress was on recess, represents one of the biggest federal land grabs of all time. The program was sold as little more than a warm and cozy federal hug where government agencies just want to help local communities voluntarily improve their rivers.

The Clinton Administration claimed the new program wouldn’t cost a dime. It said the program was totally voluntary, and that any community or property owner could get out of it “just by asking.” The claim simply wasn’t true. But it did show the lengths this Administration was willing to go in order to sneak in a dangerous, damaging program.

Katy McGinty, the former head of the President’s Council on Environmental Quality, claimed that any community or property owner could get out of the program simply by writing a letter to her department. However, when thousands of citizens rose up in protest to write such letters – she changed the rules.

Next she said only a Member of Congress or Senator could write such a letter asking for exemption from the program. But when the entire Idaho congressional delegation submitted such a letter to Ms McGinty during a congressional hearing on the subject – she was shocked. Yet the program went forward unabated.

What the program did promise was an invasion of 13 federal agencies, directed by a federally appointed “River Navigator.” Cute name – but “River Czar” is more appropriate. Under the program cities are finding that they have little say about development along their river banks. Recreational activities like fishing, swimming and boating now come under federal regulations. Much of these activities may be curtailed by the river czar. Private property owners are running into federal no-growth policies when trying to build on their own land.

In fact, the American Heritage Rivers Initiative is really little more than federal zoning. It fits right in with its big sister – sustainable development.

Clearly, the Rivers Initiative is major policy. But not one vote was taken in Congress to create it. Each River Navigator is given a salary of $100,000. 14 rivers were initially chosen for the program – that’s almost a million and a half dollars in expense. Add the usual related bureaucracy and paperwork and the cost easily adds up to $5 million annually. Not a dime of that money was appropriated by Congress for the program.

To get it – the Clinton Administration had to raid other programs already approved by Congress. In other words, the Rivers Initiative is nothing short of a raid on the federal treasury and a misappropriation of funds.

Members of Congress did protest. Don Young and Helen Chenoweth and others even filed suit to stop the program – but Republican leadership took no action to help, and as a result, today the American Heritage Rivers Initiative is in full swing – illegal funds and all.


And as Sustainable Development is working to devour our communities – in the more rural areas of the country the threat to private property is coming from something called biosphere reserves.

On these lands, designated solely by the United Nations, no development or human activity is permitted. Buffer zones around the reserves are designed to slowly choke off human activity.

Once done, the boundaries of the reserve are increased and a new buffer zone is established. Vast amounts of private property is located in these territories and private owners – and even towns are being systematically choked off.

No legislation has been approved for this vast reorganization of the states. In fact, the model for the program is a UN document called the Biodiversity Treaty. Yet the treaty has never been ratified by the Senate.

The Clinton Administration is simply implementing the provisions of the treaty through the use of Executive Actions or Directives, carried out by departments such as Interior. Again, no funds have been appropriated – and no authority issued by the legislative branch – as called for in the Constitution.


In 1996, Bill Clinton signed a “Presidential Proclamation” to establish the “Grand Staircase-Escalate National Monument to lock up 1.7 million acres of south central Utah from any human development what-so-ever. Never mind the private property that was affected by the move. Never mind the fact that Clinton didn’t consult with a single elected official of Utah before taking the action.

Utah officials protested, but the only action taken against the land grab was to give Utah some federal funds to appease it for its loss. No action in Congress was ever taken to over turn the issue because it accepted the lame excuse by the Administration that it was a one-time only raid.

But so successful and painless was this land grab for the Administration that just last month Clinton announced he will use the same tactic to grab 5 million more acres involving six states – and cut that area off from human use as well.

Finally, legislation has been introduced by Congressman Jim Hansen to curb Clinton’s blatant misuse of the little known Antiquities Act of 1906 which the President is using to legitimize such massive land grabs. But is congressional leadership behind it? Time will tell.


Perhaps the most bazaar environmental Executive Order is #13112, entitled Invasive Species. This one creates a new federal bureaucracy called the “Interagency Invasive Species Council.” The new agency, under the direction of Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, will develop and enforce a master plan to remove invasive species from public lands.

What are invasive species, you might ask.? To quote the Executive Order, “alien species means, with respect to a particular ecosystem, any species, including seeds, eggs, spores, or other biological material capable of propagating that species that is not native to that ecosystem.”

Because the Executive Order fails to define domesticated species, most agricultural crop and animal species would clearly fall within the definition of alien. Domesticated pets, many houseplants and Kentucky bluegrass used in most lawns and golf courses would also be defined as alien species under this Executive Order. In fact, with this Administration’s determination to bring about a “wrenching transformation” of society – it could be determined that some races of man may also be considered alien.

So now, according to this new policy of the Clinton Administration, if a homeowner plants a fruit tree or flower garden in his yard, or takes the family dog for a walk, most likely he’s guilty of launching an invasion of alien species on natural America.

Of course farmers and cattle ranches are the real target of this Executive Order. It is just one more plank in the stage that’s being set for the radical transformation of America.


Careful study clearly shows there is a very specific purpose to all of these environmental Executive Orders. It is the systematic restructuring of the United States from a nation of private property, free enterprise and elected representation to an America with a centrally controlled economy.

Environmentalism is only the convenient excuse used so effectively to scare concerned Americans into willing giving up their liberty. Bill Clinton, with Al Gore in the forefront, is systematically implementing the agenda of the radical, extremist environmental movement. And its being done – not through legislation created by representatives who have to answer to the people – but through the dictates of Executive Order. That way there is no opportunity for debate. No chance to question the validity of the reasons given for the need of the programs. And no chance for opposition to grow. America is changing before our very eyes with virtually no discussion.

After Bill Clinton signed Executive Order 13083, which would have virtually done away with the tenth amendment of the Constitution, Presidential aide Paul Begula was overheard to say, “Stroke of the pen, law of the land, kinda cool.”

Well there is nothing cool about it. It’s a threat to our very Constitutional system. That system will only survive if all branches of the government do their job.

Presidents have used Executive Orders throughout history. Even George Washington used them. But those early orders were nothing more than internal memos through which the President communicated to his staff, cabinet and department heads, detailing how the Executive Branch would implement a new law or regulation that had been enacted by the Congress.

Only in recent years have presidents begun to use the Executive Order as a way to create policy. And Bill Clinton has taken the practice to an art form. But in fact, the use of Executive Orders to create policy or expend funds not appropriated by the Congress is an infringement of Congressional powers, as outlined in Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution.

Just this year the Supreme Court ruled in Minnesota Vs Mille Lac, “the President’s power to issue an Executive Order must stem either from an act of congress or from the Constitution itself.”

The reason Bill Clinton’s avalanche of Executive Orders has become a national problem is because the leadership in the Congress has refused to use its power to challenge and stop them. The more Congress has ignored its responsibility, the bolder Clinton has become in issuing even more.

The Founding Fathers set up a brilliant system of checks and balances among the three branches of the Federal government. But how could they have foreseen that one branch would voluntarily give up its power to another – especially when the Congress and the White House are controlled by rival parties?

By its own inaction, Congress is helping to create a Constitutional crisis, and as a result, Bill Clinton is managing to change and restructure the United States to his liking.

As Senator Fred Thompson has said, “the two most important questions policies makers must ask themselves are, ‘what should government be doing?’ and ‘at what level of government should it be done?’ Everything else flows from them. That’s why federalism is at the heart of our system.”

In 1966, Singer Barry McGuire sang …”and you tell me over and over again, you don’t believe we’re on the eve of destruction…”

If the leadership of the Congress of the United States doesn’t soon stand up and take action – if it doesn’t back up the efforts of courageous Members like Congressman Metcalf, – to stop Bill Clinton’s use of Executive Orders as an end run around the legislative process – then the system so brilliantly conceived by the founding fathers – is certainly on the eve of destruction.

Tom DeWeese
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Tom DeWeese is one of the nation’s leading advocates of individual liberty, free enterprise, private property rights, personal privacy, back-to-basics education and American sovereignty and independence.