Gutting regulations damages democracy

Shutting the public out of natural resource rule-making is bad for the environment — and the country.

 

Amanda C. Leiter is a contributor to Writers on the Range, the opinion service of High Country News (hcn.org). She is a professor at American University’s College of Law and served as deputy assistant secretary, Land and Minerals Management, U.S. Department of the Interior, from 2015-’17.


A subcommittee of the House Committee on Natural Resources recently held a hearing with the curious title: “Examining impacts of federal natural resources laws gone astray.”

The title reflects the reality that “regulation” is now a dirty word in the nation’s capital. Indeed, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney recently spoke of “that slow cancer that can come from regulatory burdens that we put on our people.”

I couldn’t disagree more. Laws and regulations can always be reformed and improved, but the real threat to America’s natural resources, and to the health of our democracy, is the Trump administration’s nontransparent, one-sided assault on commonsense regulation. The administration’s efforts are ostensibly aimed at giving industry — particularly the energy industry — a voice in rulemaking, and at eliminating rules with excessive costs.

During a May visit to Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke spent most of his time with groups opposed to the monument.

But the administration exerts little effort to solicit the views of communities that benefit from regulations — those who rely on the government to protect America’s air, water, lands, wildlife and sacred places from the threats of population growth, climate change, and uncontrolled, first-come-first-served development.

Moreover, the implication that industry was shut out of rulemaking efforts during prior administrations is simply false. The United States has one of the most balanced, transparent and science-based resource management regimes in the world. The Obama administration’s adherence to that regime meant that everyone had a seat at the table during development of resource management rules.

Complicated rulemakings took the administration years to complete, because agencies had to notify stakeholders that their interests could be affected, hold public meetings, and consult with affected tribes as well as industry players, trade associations and non-governmental organizations. Public comments had to be solicited, read and reviewed. To give one example, in developing a 2016 rule that limits wasteful and polluting emissions of natural gas from oil and gas operations on public lands, we received, read and responded to over 330,000 public comments.

Moreover, once a rule becomes final, the outreach process must be repeated, and regulated industries must be given a reasonable amount of time to come into compliance before the rule becomes effective.

This is a painstaking process. But this participatory regime serves a vital purpose: It ensures that agencies are aware of the many competing demands on public resources in a country as large, diverse and resource-rich as the United States. Now, the Trump administration seems intent on elevating development interests above all other resource uses.

For example, a recent Washington Post review showed that in March and April of this year, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke held more than a half-dozen meetings with executives from oil and gas firms and trade associations to discuss reversal of Obama-era policies. And a New York Times and ProPublica examination of more than 1,300 pages of handwritten sign-in sheets from Interior Department headquarters found that, from February through May, at least 58 representatives of the oil and gas industry signed their names on the agency’s visitor logs.

Back in early May, Zinke suspended upcoming meetings of the Bureau of Land Management’s 30 Resource Advisory Councils. For more than two decades, those councils have given diverse local interests, including recreationists, an opportunity to give feedback on BLM regulatory proposals and policy changes.

The Rocky Mountain Resource Advisory Council tours a solar energy zone in the San Luis Valley. The citizen group provided recommendations to the BLM on the management of public lands and resources in Colorado’s Royal Gorge, San Luis Valley and Gunnison area. Secretary Zinke suspended meetings for groups like this in May.
Bureau of Land Management

Zinke’s halfhearted “outreach” efforts are similarly one-sided. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, for instance, during the secretary’s May trip to Utah to “review” the designation of Bears Ears National Monument, he “traveled extensively with anti-monument heavyweights” yet held only two “meetings with pro-monument activists.” He also failed to hold a single public meeting.

Similarly, a recent Interior Department call for comments on reforming agency regulations asked only for suggestions of regulations to be thrown out or revised. The call provided regulatory opponents with a checklist of rationales for deregulation, yet offered no similar guidelines to backers of regulations.

In short, our natural resources laws have not gone astray; what has gone astray is our commitment to protecting our natural resources and our public lands from uncontrolled energy development. This administration’s disdain for open and participatory rulemaking is unlawful and undermines our democracy.

High Country News Classifieds
  • MONTANA DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT
    YOUR POSITION WITH TNC The Director of Development (DoD) is responsible for directing all aspects of one or more development functions, which will secure significant...
  • DEVELOPMENT AND OPERATIONS COORDINATOR
    Development & Operations Coordinator Terms: 1.0 FTE (full-time), Salary DOE ($45,000 - $55,000) Benefits: Paid Time Off (12-24 days/year depending on tenure), Paid Holidays (10/year),...
  • GUIDE TO WESTERN NATIONAL MONUMENTS
    NEW BOOK showcases 70 national monuments across the western United States. Use "Guide10" for 10% off at cmcpress.org
  • CARBON RANCH PLANNER
    The Quivira Coalition (www.quiviracoaltion.org) is a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic, and social health through education,...
  • EDUCATION AND OUTREACH DIRECTOR
    Education and Outreach Program Director The Quivira Coalition (www.quiviracoaltion.org) is a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic,...
  • WESTERN DIVISION DIRECTOR OF FIELD PROGRAMS
    DEADLINE TO APPLY: October 29, 2021 LOCATION FLEXIBLE (WESTERN HUB CITY PREFERRED) Overview The Land Trust Alliance is the voice of the land trust community....
  • COMMUNICATIONS AND OUTREACH ASSOCIATE
    Communications and Outreach Associate Position Opening: www.westernlaw.org/communications-outreach-associate ************************************************* Location: Western U.S., ideally in one of WELC's existing office locations (Santa Fe or Taos, NM, Helena,...
  • FREELANCE GRAPHIC DESIGNER & PROJECT COORDINATOR (REMOTE)
    High Country News (HCN) is seeking a contract Graphic Designer & Project Coordinator to design promotional, marketing and fund-raising assets and campaigns, and project-manage them...
  • FILM AND DIGITAL MEDIA: ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF INDIGENOUS MEDIA, CULTURAL SOVEREIGNTY AND DECOLONIZATION (INITIAL REVIEW 12.1.21)
    Film and Digital Media: Assistant Professor of Indigenous Media, Cultural Sovereignty and Decolonization (Initial Review 12.1.21) Position overview Position title: Assistant Professor - tenure-track Salary...
  • REAL ESTATE SPECIALIST
    To learn more about this position and to apply please go to the following URL.
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    "More Data, Less Digging" Find groundwater and reduce excavation costs!
  • RARE CHIRICAHUA RIPARIAN LAND FOR SALE
    40 acres: 110 miles from Tucson: native trees, grasses: birder's heaven::dark sky/ borders state lease & National forest/5100 ft/13-16 per annum rain
  • CENTRAL PARK CULTURAL RESOURCE SPECIALIST
    Agency: Oregon Parks and Recreation Department Salary Range: $5,203 - $7,996 Position Title: Central Park Cultural Resource Specialist Do you have a background in Archaeology...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    Come live and work in one of the most beautiful places in the world! As our Staff Attorney you will play a key role in...
  • ARIZONA GRAZING CLEARINGHOUSE
    Dedicated to preventing the ecological degradation caused by livestock grazing on Arizona's public lands, and exposing the government subsidies that support it.
  • OPERATIONS MANAGER
    Position Summary: Friends of the Inyo (friendsoftheinyo.org) is seeking a new Operations Manager. The Operations Manager position is a full-time permanent position that reports directly...
  • WATER RIGHTS BUREAU CHIEF
    Water Rights Bureau Chief, State of Montana, DNRC, Water Resources Division, Helena, MT Working to support and implement the Department's mission to help ensure that...
  • DEVELOPMENT & OUTREACH ASSOCIATE
    Southeast Alaska Conservation Council is hiring! Who We Are: The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (SEACC) is a small grassroots nonprofit based out of Juneau, Alaska,...
  • DESERT LANDS ORGANIZER
    Position Summary: Friends of the Inyo seeks a Desert Lands Organizer to assist with existing campaigns that will defend lands in the California desert, with...
  • IDAHO CONSERVATION LEAGUE
    Want to help preserve Idaho's land, water, and air for future generations? Idaho Conservation League currently has 3 open positions. We are looking for a...