Biden needs to go beyond a Trump reset

The president-elect has an opportunity to rebuild better than before.

 

Bears Ears National Monument was designated by President Obama in December 2016. In December 2017 President Trump attempted to reduce Bears Ears National Monument through a new presidential proclamation, cutting the size of the monument by 85%. This modification is being contested.

In early 2017, not long after President Donald J. Trump moved into the White House, his chief advisor, Steve Bannon, said that the administration’s aim was the “deconstruction of the administrative state.” A charitable listener might have heard a run-of-the-mill libertarian goal, to downsize the bloated government in order to make room for personal liberties.

It has since become clear that Trump cared more about freedom for government and corporations — and for that matter, COVID-19 — to run rampant.

Perhaps nowhere was Trump’s approach more thorough than when it comes to the Earth. He removed limits on mercury and methane emissions, incapacitated the Clean Water Act and gutted protections for the Tongass National Forest in Alaska, to name just a few of nearly 100 rollbacks. All purportedly to help the economy, achieve “energy dominance” on public lands and make him look good — energy-efficient light bulbs, he said, “make you look orange.”

President-elect Joseph R. Biden has indicated that he’ll quickly roll back the rollbacks as soon as he’s inaugurated. Yet a reset is not enough. In fact, many of the rules didn’t cut it under President Obama, and though Obama tried to fix many of them, his efforts often fell short. Here are a few examples of policies and rules that Trump obliterated, and that Biden — hopefully with Congress’s help — could now rebuild, making them better and stronger than before.

Clean Power Plan: President Obama’s plan mandated a cut in power sector carbon emissions by 32% from 2005 levels by 2030, which essentially would have forced coal out of the energy mix while leaving room for natural gas. Before it went into effect, Trump gutted the plan, though it was hardly necessary: Economics forced coal plant retirements after Trump’s election, coal mining jobs continued to wane and emissions dropped even more than the Obama plan would have required. The plan was obsolete before it was finalized.

Biden’s plan must provide for a just transition for workers and communities that will be abandoned by the fossil fuel industries.

Biden’s plan must include more ambitious emissions cuts and, equally as important, provide for a just transition for workers and communities that will be abandoned by the fossil fuel industries.

Oil and gas development: Trump rolled over the environment by rolling back rules for fracking, stocking the Interior Department with industry insiders, ramming through approvals of pipelines built by his multi-million-dollar donors, and by slashing royalties paid by oil companies.

Yet Obama’s policies were equally friendly to energy development. His administration leased out two million more acres of public land to oil and gas companies during his first term than Trump and oversaw a drilling boom of unprecedented magnitude. Biden needs not only to roll back the rollbacks, but also to overhaul the leasing process to shift power away from corporate boardrooms and back into public hands, and increase oil and gas royalty payments across the board to give American taxpayers a fair shake.

Bears Ears National Monument: In 2015, the Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute, Hopi and Zuni tribes asked Obama to designate as a national monument 1.9 million acres of public land in southeastern Utah, with tribal representatives having a major management role. When Obama established the monument, it was 600,000 acres smaller than the proposal, and the tribal role was reduced to an advisory one. Trump slashed the monument by 85% and rammed through a shoddy management plan for what remained, further diminishing the tribal role.

Biden should restore the monument, giving the tribal nations an equal role in determining new boundaries and creating a strong management plan.

That’s only the beginning. Biden will also have to restore another 80 or more regulations, redirect agencies that have been steered off-course, invalidate the lease sale for the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, bring science back into policymaking, stop the building of the border wall, and clean the house of Trump appointees who are trying to destroy the so-called administrative state from within.

That includes William Perry Pendley — Twitter handle @Sagebrush_Rebel — whom Trump installed as acting director of the Bureau of Land Management in 2019. This September, a judge ruled that Pendley  never approved by Congress  had served unlawfully, and ordered him out of his role. Anticipating Trump, Pendley changed his title and refused to leave, insisting that the law and the court’s order “has no impact” on him.

With Trump now taking a similar stance, Biden may be forced to drag two people out of office come January.

Jonathan Thompson is a contributor to Writers on the Range, writersontherange.org, a nonprofit dedicated to spurring lively conversation about the West. He is a longtime journalist and the author of River of Lost Souls: The Science, Politics, and Greed Behind the Gold King Mine DisasterEmail High Country News at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor

High Country News Classifieds
  • CARPENTER WANTED
    CARPENTER WANTED. Come to Ketchikan and check out the Rainforest on the coast, HIke the shorelines, hug the big trees, watch deer in the muskeg...
  • AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT EDITOR
    High Country News (HCN) seeks an audience editor to attract and acquire new audiences and deepen engagement with them - in our newsletters, on our...
  • COMMUNITY MARKETER
    High Country News (HCN) is looking for a Community Marketer to build and strengthen relationships between HCN and other organizations and individuals, with the aim...
  • FINANCE & OPERATIONS MANAGER
    Job Announcement: Finance and Operations Manager Announcement date: July 16, 2021 Applications will be reviewed on an ongoing basis and first review will begin: August...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Job Announcement: Development Director Announcement date: July 16, 2021 Applications will be reviewed on an ongoing basis and first review will begin: August 9, 2021...
  • HECHO POLICY AND ADVOCACY MANAGER
    Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO) was created in 2013 to help fulfill our duty to conserve and protect our public lands for...
  • HECHO NEW MEXICO SENIOR FIELD COORDINATOR
    Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO) was created in 2013 to help fulfill our duty to conserve and protect our public lands for...
  • IDAHO STATE DIRECTOR
    The Wilderness Society is seeking a full time Idaho State Director who will preferably be based in Boise, Idaho. This position is part of our...
  • CAUCASIAN OVCHARKA PUPPIES
    Strong loyal companions. Ready to protect your family and property. Proven against wolves and grizzlies. Imported bloodlines. Well socialized.
  • DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    The Nature Conservancy in Alaska is dedicated to saving the lands and waters on which all life depends. For more than 30 years, TNC has...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY, CLIMATE AND ENERGY PROGRAM
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING https://westernlaw.org/career-opportunity-climate-energy-staff-attorney/ ************************************************** Position Title: Climate and Energy Program Staff Attorney Reports to: Climate and Energy Program Director Location: Helena, Montana; other...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY, WILDLANDS AND WILDLIFE PROGRAM
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING https://westernlaw.org/career-opportunity-wildlands-staff-attorney/ ************************************************** Position Title: Wildlands and Wildlife Program Staff Attorney Reports to: Wildlands and Wildlife Program Director Location: Portland or Eugene,...
  • DISCOUNT SOLAR PANELS
    New w/25 year warranty. Shipped anywhere in the lower 48. Minimum order of 10 units. Call, text or email for current prices. .50-.80/ watt
  • SWEET MOUNTAIN HOME
    3.8 acres in pine and fir forest on a year round creek. Custom home, 2x6 framing, radiant heat, wrap around decks and established berry patch....
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    "More Data, Less Digging" Find groundwater and reduce excavation costs!
  • CUSTOMER SERVICE ASSISTANT - (PART-TIME)
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a part-time Customer Service Assistant, based at...
  • LEGAL DIRECTOR AND STAFF ATTORNEY
    Friends of the San Juans' Legal Director and Staff Attorney ("Legal Director") leads our legal advocacy and litigation practice and participates in many other organizational...
  • SPRING-FED PARCELS ON THE UPPER SAC RIVER
    Adjacent parcels above the Upper Sacramento river, near Dunsmuir. The smaller is just under 3 acres, with the larger at just under 15 acres. Multiple...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Wilderness Volunteers Wilderness Volunteers (WV), a 24-year leader in preserving our nation's wildlands, is seeking a motivated person with deep outdoor interests to guide our...
  • POEM+ NEWSLETTER
    Start each month with a poem in your inbox by signing up for Taylor S. Winchell's monthly Poem+ Newsletter. No frills. No news. No politics....