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
  • RARE CHIRICAHUA RIPARIAN LAND FOR SALE: NEAR CHRICAHUA NATIONAL PARK
    2 (20 acre sites): 110 miles from Tucson:AZ Native trees: Birder's heaven: dark skies: Creek: borders State lease & National forest: /13-16 inches of rain...
  • DIRECTOR - SONORAN DESERT INN & CONFERENCE CENTER
    The Sonoran Desert Inn & Conference Center is a non-profit lodging and event venue in Ajo, Arizona, located on the historic Curley School Campus. We...
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Field Seminars for adults: cultural and natural history of the Colorado Plateau. With guest experts, local insights, small groups, and lodge or base camp formats....
  • PLANNED GIVING OFFICER
    National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), the nation's oldest and largest national parks nonprofit advocacy organization seeks a Planned Giving Officer. Do you find energy in...
  • DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    The Methow Valley Citizens Council has a distinguished history of advocating for progressive land use and environmental values in the Methow Valley and Okanogan County...
  • ACTING INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS DESK EDITOR
    High Country News is seeking an Acting Indigenous Affairs Editor to oversee the work of our award-winning Indigenous Affairs Desk while our editor is on...
  • GRANTS PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    The Cinnabar Foundation seeks an enthusiastic, team-oriented and knowledgeable Grants Program Director to work from their home in Montana. Established in 1983, the Cinnabar Foundation...
  • ARTEMIS PROGRAM MANAGER
    The Artemis Program Manager will work with National Wildlife Federation sporting and public lands staff to change this dynamic, continue to build upon our successful...
  • ALASKA SEA KAYAK BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Well-known and successful sea kayak, raft, hike, camp guiding & water taxi service. Sale includes everything needed to run the business, including office & gear...
  • MEMBERSHIP AND EVENTS PROGRAM COORDINATOR
    Great Old Broads for Wilderness seeks a detail-oriented and enthusiastic Membership and Events Coordinator to join our small, but mighty-fun team to oversee our membership...
  • PROGRAM DEVELOPMENT FACILITATOR
    ABOUT THE HIGH DESERT MUSEUM Since opening in 1982, HIGH DESERT MUSEUM has brought together wildlife, culture, art and natural resources to promote an understanding...
  • LAND STEWARD, ARAVAIPA
    Steward will live on-site in housing provided by TNC and maintains preserve areas frequented by the visiting public and performs land management activities. The Land...
  • DEVELOPMENT WRITER
    Who We Are: The Nature Conservancy's mission is to protect the lands and waters upon which all life depends. As a science-based organization, we create...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Driggs, ID based non-profit. Full time. Full job description available at tvtap.org. Submit cover letter and resume to [email protected]
  • ENVIRONMENTAL AND CONSTRUCTION GEOPHYSICS
    - We find groundwater, buried debris and assist with new construction projects for a fraction of drilling costs.
  • SPRING MOUNTAINS SOLAR OFF GRID MOUNTAIN HOME
    Located 50 miles northwest of Las Vegas, Nevada in the pine forest of Lee Canyon at 8000 feet elevation. One of a kind property surrounded...
  • MAJOR GIFTS MANAGER - MOUNTAIN WEST, THE CONSERVATION FUND
    Cultivate, solicit and steward a portfolio of 75-125 donors.
  • NATURE'S BEST IN ARAVAIPA CANYON
    10 acre private oasis in one of Arizona's beautiful canyons. Fully furnished, 2123 sq ft architectural custom-built contemporary home with spectacular views and many extras....
  • HEALTH FOOD STORE IN NW MONTANA
    Turn-key business includes 2500 sq ft commercial building in main business district of Libby, Montana. 406.293.6771 /or [email protected]
  • LUNATEC ODOR-FREE DISHCLOTHS
    are a must try. They stay odor-free, dry fast, are durable and don't require machine washing. Try today.