Eye on Washington - Dec 2016/Jan2017

December, 2016


Welcome to One Party Rule

President Barack Obama, who has been friendly to many conservation issues, used his veto firewall to stop the most destructive anti-environmental legislation for the past eight years. Now the United States will be working in a very different era. President Trump will enjoy majorities in both the Senate and House of Representatives. It is not often that the checks and balances between the Executive and Legislative branches are weakened by one party rule, but that is exactly the system conservationists will find themselves in. In stark terms, President-elect Trump has said he will appoint cabinet secretaries that will be charged with reducing environmental regulations that hinder business and resource exploitation. As of the writing of this report, there are a lot of names being floated as possible cabinet members and agency heads but by January, final names will appear. 

The appointment of Secretaries to the cabinet is one of the most impactful of Presidential powers along with appointments to the Supreme Court.  Readers should pay close attention to news of those nominations.  Some in Washington predict Trump will follow President Reagan’s legacy and nominate secretaries and agency heads who have opposed those very departments and agencies and worked to defund them. For those who are too young to remember, look up James Watt—who was President Reagan’s Secretary of the Interior and an attorney for the anti-public lands movement known as the “Sagebrush Rebellion”—and Anne Gorsuch Burford. Burford was the first female director of the Environmental Protection Agency who resigned in 1983 during a scandal over mismanagement of a $1.6 billion program to clean up hazardous waste dumps. Burford proved to be the classic “fox guarding the henhouse” politician when virtually all of her subordinates at the EPA were chosen from the industries they were charged with overseeing.

The Lame Duck Congress

Coal companies saw prices spike with news of Donald Trump’s shocking presidential victory.  At rallies, Trump has held up signs promoting coal extraction. Kentucky politicians such as Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell, who have fought clean air regulations that control coal plant air pollution and the poisonous by-product methylmercury, will be very happy as clean air regulations are likely to be swept away.

Immediately after the election results were clear, the owners of the Keystone XL Pipeline doubled down on their intent to build it. Those behind the Dakota Access Pipeline, at the center of ongoing protests by hundreds of indigenous water protectors in South Dakota, are likewise emboldened by the election results. “We are evaluating ways to engage the new administration on the benefits, the jobs and the tax revenues this project brings to the table,” said Mark Cooper, a spokesman for TransCanada Corp. 

Interestingly, the hub of the Keystone XL is in Cushing, Oklahoma, the largest crude oil trading hub in North America. The area  experienced a 5.0 earthquake just two days before this election. That earthquake was just two months after the biggest quake in state history (5.8-magnitude), approximately 25 miles south of Cushing. The connections between the earthquakes and fracking are so clear that last year the oil-friendly Oklahoma legislature enacted new laws designed to provide protections from fracking induced earthquakes.

President Trump's First 100 Days

By the time readers see this column, the lame duck session will be nearly over but here are a few priority actions the Trump transition team has suggested they would like to enact early in the
next Congress:

1: Cancel the Clean Power Plan and related executive orders.

2: Freeze federal hiring for jobs other than public safety, public health and defense. (Currently vacant or soon-vacated positons will not be filled until a new, reduced budget is passed. So say goodbye to those who enforce regulations.)

Turning a Negative Into a Positive

If nothing else, the election of Donald Trump, the team he will assemble, and the agenda he will push in all likelihood will give progressives and conservationists the clearest target for activist opposition since Watt and the Sagebrush Rebellion. This, along with the clear danger of climate change and backsliding on environmental regulation, just might energize a whole new generation of activists. The NEC faces this challenge with our legacy of grassroots organization and clear priorities. Northern California is fortunate to have legislative champions in the Senate and House of Representatives. Rep. Huffman has stated his strong, continuing support for conservation legislation, especially to stop climate change. Senator Boxer’s successor, Kamala Harris, has also committed her support for issues important to environmentalists.  It will be imperative that citizens and organizations work together to fend off attacks on the environment from timber management to sustainable energy and climate change solutions. It will be a time of vigilance by conservationists to protect our public lands and our environment. And finally, we along the North Coast of California have some of the most beautiful natural areas in the world to inspire us and renew us. When the going gets tough—get outside.

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