Draining the Swamp

by Greg Walcher on November 18, 2016

Donald Trump’s stunning victory in the presidential election has already created the usual swarm of “experts” who know exactly what the new President must do. The chattering class, editorialists, columnists, and bloggers everywhere are rushing to get their ideas heard. From appointment suggestions to major policy initiatives, all seem to know exactly what Mr. Trump should do. So, here is my two cents!

I once read that “what the world really needs is fewer people who know what the world really needs.” That does not apply to Vice President Thomas Marshall, who in 1913 famously interrupted a long-winded Senator with the quip “What this country really needs is a good five-cent cigar.” But it might well apply to thousands of office-seekers and policy wonks jockeying for position, like those who once lined up for a half-mile outside the White House to see Lincoln.

Natural resources policy is no different; dozens of people swirl around the President-elect’s transition offices with ideas for addressing contentious environmental issues. Some of the attention-seekers will become “experts” and others will remain wannabes. But these issues will remain deadly serious, and many of them must be addressed early to jump start the promised economic resurgence.

This is ironic, because environmental issues are only rarely mentioned in national campaigns. They are not the top-of-mind issues to most voters, certainly not on the same level as jobs, healthcare, or terrorism. That explains why, aside from a few remarks about the over-reach of EPA regulators, there was little talk about the environment during this campaign. Yet these issues play a central role in keeping our economy from full recovery. These issues are especially vital in the West, where government owns most of the resources, and land management policies dramatically impact our economy.

Downtown DCMr. Trump uses the image of “draining the swamp” to describe the need for major reforms in Washington. Millions perceived him as most likely to bring about significant change, and voters expect nothing less. Beltway insiders doubt anyone’s ability to change much in a system so dominated by bureaucracies, courts, media, and lobbyists, but there is no reason to doubt Trump’s sincere desire to do so. The same desire motivates most new office holders in both parties.

Dozens of important environmental initiatives would help. Here are five specific suggestions for sound environmental policies that would help get the economy back on track.

First, a new EPA Administrator should become the first to propose repealing regulations, starting with the new “Clean Power Plan” and the new methane rules. Designed to kill the nation’s coal industry, they have already spiked electric bills and cost tens of thousands of jobs (at least 1500 in Western Colorado). Another is the “Waters of the U.S.” rule, which extends federal control over nearly every drop of water in America – never authorized by any Act of Congress.

Second, dozens of climate change offices that now exist in nearly every department should be consolidated into one. That would merge expertise, eliminate duplication, and perhaps better fund research, while allowing agencies like the Forest Service and BLM to concentrate on land management. Forcing nearly all agencies to allocate staff and money to climate change has blurred the missions of dozens of agencies. That doesn’t mean these issues are unimportant, just that they are not the job of every single department, agency, and bureau.

Third, the Forest Service should stop paying lip service to the dire need for active management of our deteriorating national forests, and start acting. That requires chain saws, not interminable studies, appeals, lawsuits, and delays (while millions of acres burn every year).

Fourth, the Interior Department should refocus endangered species programs on actual recovery, so species could be removed from the endangered list. That means publishing delisting criteria, and allowing restoration programs like those in Colorado – not simply using federal power to stop human activity. The Endangered Species Act was intended to be used for the species, not against people. That spirit still enjoys strong public support, but the heavy-handed punitive approach does not.

Finally, public lands should again be managed for multiple use, as the law requires. These lands are not the private preserves of an elite few, but should be enjoyed by all, while also supplying the resources needed to build a prosperous economy. Unlocking America’s own vast energy reserves will do more to spur the economy and alter the nature of foreign policy than anything else the new Administration can do. That would at least begin to drain the swamp.

A version of this column originally appeared in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel November 10, 2016.

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