Happy New Year!
2016 is now fading away though all the political tension surrounding the presidential election hasn’t totally dissipated. We really won’t know if it has until after the January 20th inauguration of Donald Trump as President. U. S. security personnel in Washington are preparing for multiple demonstrations on that day, so we are in a wait and see mode to find out whether the events of this important day go smoothly.
The President-elect has almost completed the selection of his cabinet though we are still waiting to see who he wants to be the next Secretary of Agriculture. This is important to us because the U.S. Forest Service comes under the Department of Agriculture. In due course there will be a new Chief of the Forest Service as well, but that selection must wait until the new Secretary is in place.
Other specific appointments of interest to us include the nomination of Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke as the next Secretary of the Interior. The Zinke selection was somewhat of a surprise. Of importance to the President-elect was the fact the Rep. Zinke was one of his earliest supporters in the Congress. Rep. Zinke has served only one term in the House of Representatives but prior to that he served as a state senator in the Montana Senate and also had a 23-year career as a Navy SEAL. In time there will also be a new Director of the Bureau of Land Management. At this stage there is little information available as to who will replace the current director, Neil Kornze.
Elaine Chao, former Secretary of Labor under President George W. Bush, is the President-elect’s nominee to be the next Secretary of Transportation. Since the Recreational Trails Program (RTP) comes under the auspices of the Transportation Department, we very much care about who the leaders are of this department. There is a lot of speculation that a massive infrastructure program will be launched during the Trump Presidency, and Secretary Chao will have a major role is shepherding this program through the Congress. Of course, it helps that she is married to Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader. Our focus will be to make sure that RTP is not adversely affected by any program initiatives.
First One-Hundred Days of the 115th Congress
The new Congress convened on January 3rd. In addition to swearing in new members and working out committee assignments for the 115th Congress, confirmation of Presidential nominees is a high priority for the Senate. Also facing both houses is the issue of appropriations for FY 2017. Before the 114th Congress left town in December, it passed a short-term continuing resolution that will expire on April 28th. But even before turning to that issue, the House and Senate must deal with the contentious issue of the expiring debt ceiling set for March 16. This will be an early test issue on how the Trump Administration and the Republican controlled Congress can manage a controversial legislative issue. At this stage, it’s impossible to handicap how this will all play out except to say that March 16th isn’t that far off.
President Obama and New Monument Designations
The current occupant of the Oval Office is not leaving town quietly. Just prior to the New Year, President Obama exercised his authority under the Antiquities Act of 1906 by declaring as National Monuments an additional 1.65 million acres of public lands in Utah and Nevada. The Utah declaration runs counter to the wishes of the Utah congressional delegation and at the very least, is very controversial in the state. The Utah Public Lands Initiative (UPLI) as proposed by Reps. Bishop and Chaffetz was an attempt to address the Bears Ears public lands issue short of a presidential declaration. ARRA was a strong supporter of the UPLI approach. At this stage it appears that President Obama’s declaration makes the UPLI a moot issue, but we are hoping Reps. Bishop and Chaffetz will come up with a new plan. The Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada was done at the behest of outgoing Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, (D-NV) and would appear to be less controversial than the newly created National Monument in Utah.
These National Monument declarations by President Obama will place political pressure on the incoming President to do something to reverse these executive orders. It’s too soon to know whether Mr. Trump will be inclined to take such action, but one thing is certain, National Monument declarations are going to be a hotly debated issue within the new Administration and in the 115th Congress. Revising the Antiquities Act is going to be a high priority for some members of Congress beginning with Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT), the Chairman of the House Resources Committee. ARRA intends to support legislative efforts to roll back these recent Monument designations.
A New Agenda
It is likely that the Republican controlled Congress will try to use the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to rescind some of the last minute regulations approved in the closing days of the Obama Administration. Under CRA, the Congress has sixty legislative days (days in session) to disapprove a regulation from the time it had been finalized by the Executive Branch. This means that those regulations finalized in the last remaining months of the Obama Administration could be subject to review under CRA.
The Congress will also use the reconciliation process under the Budget Control Act as a way to revisit some of the recent environmental policies issued by the Environmental Protection Agency. The Senate also intends to use the same process to deal with the Obamacare issue. Under reconciliation, decisions by the Senate only require a simple majority of 51 votes making this a preferred legislative mechanism for the majority party to change existing federal policies.
In time we will see a major push to revise federal land management policies. As we have already mentioned, revising the Antiquities Act of 1906 is one issue we will be playing close attention to.
We believe there will be opportunities to enhance recreational access to federal lands and we are going to be paying close attention on how these issues evolve. We have mapped out an extensive plan for outreach on Capitol Hill in the coming months with the purpose of educating members on our land use access priorities as well as finding out what is likely to happen both in the short and long term so we can be prepared to make the most of opportunities coming down the pike. 2017 is going to be an interesting year. We hope you will stay with us as we advocate for motorized recreation.
Happy New Year!
Larry E. Smith
Americans for Responsible Recreational Access (ARRA)