As we prepare this newsletter, it has been less than two weeks since the inauguration of Donald Trump as President. He has done many things in that short time. He has issued executive orders and presidential memorandums affecting a multitude of federal policies and practices. Some of his actions have proven to be very controversial and others not so much. But one thing is very clear: there is a new sheriff in town!
President Trump has nominated former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue as his Secretary of Agriculture. As of this writing, a hearing on his nomination has yet to be scheduled. He is probably busy filling out the necessary paperwork for his nomination.
Rep. Ryan Zinke’s nomination as Secretary of the Interior was successfully reported out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on a vote of 16-6-1. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) was the one committee member to abstain. We will explain this later in this newsletter. A full Senate vote on his nomination should take place in a couple of days.
Elaine Chao was confirmed as Secretary for Transportation by the Senate on a vote of 93-6. Chao’s confirmation is important to us because the Recreational Trails Program is under the jurisdiction of the Transportation Department.
Reading the Fine Print – The Future of the Forest Service
Nominees are always asked many more questions than can be handled during the course of a confirmation hearing. Written questions are submitted to the nominee and the written answers are submitted “for the record.” Sometimes looking at those written answers can give one a better insight into the nominee’s thinking than the oral testimony. For example, Rep. Zinke was asked about the merits of keeping the Forest Service in the Department of Agriculture rather than merging it into the Department of the Interior. Zinke’s response was that he was giving serious consideration to asking for such a transfer. This idea has been kicked around many other times before and to no avail, so it is difficult to know how serious he is about attempting this transfer. However, Senator Wyden abstained from voting for Zinke’s nomination over this very issue and some of the negative votes in the Committee were cast against his nomination because of opposition to moving the Forest Service to the Interior Department.
Zinke also said he intended to “undertake a 100-year review of Interior’s structure and management; resource management, etc.” We keep hearing rumors that the Interior Department is slated for some major budget cuts. Other Departments could see similar cuts include Energy, State and Transportation, to name just a few. If these agencies go under the fiscal knife, streamlining efforts may well be driven in part because of financial considerations. We should know more about this when President Trump submits his 2018 budget request to the Congress sometime in March.
Is the LWCF in trouble?
Last year the House Resources Committee sought to reform the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), the program that is funded through oil royalties from off-shore drilling. Some in Congress believe that the federal government already owns too much land and that the $900 million authorized for the LWCF should be used for other purposes rather than acquiring more land. Letting the program’s authorization expire when it ends on September 30, 2018 would make for an easy termination. And, there is talk about doing just. ARRA has always felt that the program was in need of reform, but termination might be going a bit too far.
It looks like the Utah congressional delegation is not about to leave unchallenged former President Obama’s decision to create the Bears Ears National Monument. Various members of the delegation have spoken personally to President Trump and to Secretary-designate Zinke about the need to overturn this declaration. Although there are some legal questions as to whether a president can rescind a monument designation of a former president, there is precedent for adjusting the boundaries of National Monuments. Secretary-designate Zinke has promised that one of the first orders of business as Secretary will be to go to Utah and talk directly to the people affected by this particular monument designation. Perhaps some sort of change for Bears Ears National Monument is more than just a pipedream.
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee has removed National Monument designations from the jurisdiction of its National Parks Subcommittee and made it a subject matter for the full committee. Some might consider this move as a minor matter, but we see it as something more. Chairman Lisa Murkowski‘s(R-Alaska) decision to kick this issue to the full committee is one way to streamline the process for rewriting of the Antiquities Act. We see this as a hopeful sign.
Two for One
Buy two for the price of one is always a good sales tactic. Buy one and get a second one free is a variation of the first. Well, President Trump has added a new twist when it comes to federal regulations. One of his executive orders directs that for every new federal regulation, two old regulations must be eliminated. We are not sure how this will affect the federal lands agencies, but I suspect those responsible for writing new regulations will be thinking long and hard on which ones they need to eliminate. If nothing else, this new order will serve to slow down the promulgation of new regulations. We like this idea.
Since January 20th, there has been a whirlwind of activity coming out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The level of intensity is almost too much to comprehend. It is virtually impossible to know how or when things will settle down or whether this is the new norm for the executive branch. There is definitely a period of adjustment for the federal agencies and even the Congress when dealing with President Trump. It is hard to know how our recreation issues will be affected until Secretary-designates Zinke and Perdue have been confirmed and are on the job. Only then will we begin see sub-cabinet level positions filled that will have direct supervision over our issues.
Larry E. Smith
Americans for Responsible Recreational Access (ARRA)