It is commonly said of ill-advised policies that "the cure is worse than the ailment." That's often true, but not always. It came to mind this week when several websites expressed horror over a report regarding numerous environmental policy changes. Several articles carried headlines about the "staggering scope of environmental rollbacks by Trump administration."
Interestingly, not one article expressed the slightest wonder about the "staggering" scope of the policies being "rolled back." One change was even criticized because it was made by executive order — even though the policy being changed had also been created by executive order. That process was apparently acceptable for President Obama, but not for President Trump.
That is the crux of the debate over this "report," issued by the Center for Western Priorities (CWP), an environmental industry group based in Denver but funded by the "Resources Legacy Fund." The latter is a California fund launched by the Packard Foundation with a $175 million check, and into which the usual environmental donors have lavished millions to push a preservation agenda. They do that by funding projects like CWP in California, Colorado, Idaho, and Montana.
The report declares that Trump administration has "rolled back more than 50 environmental protections," based on analyses of 53 specific policy changes — all labeled "rollbacks" of vital protections. Worse, it claims, the changes were made at the behest of the energy industry. There is no mention of how new the "rolled back" policies were, but most date from the Obama era. The environmental agenda progressed astoundingly during those eight years, but nobody seems to have been "staggered" about that.
The most shocking thing about this revelation is that anyone is shocked. After all, Donald Trump campaigned on a promise to produce America's own domestic energy resources. He promised to re-open public lands where most of those resources had been locked up, repeal the anti-coal "clean power plan" and the "Waters of the US" rule, withdraw from the Paris climate deal, and generally facilitate American companies producing American energy. Those promises are partly why he was elected, so the follow-up should surprise nobody.
The CWP report, called "Drilling and Mining Industry Wish List," was designed to provoke outrage at the supposed impropriety of adopting policies that any industry supports. It accuses the Trump administration of "granting the wishes of oil, gas, coal, and uranium companies at a breathtaking pace."
As evidence of something unethical, we are reminded that in 2017, the Trump administration "requested public input on which regulations and policies should be repealed, replaced or modified." What an outrage, asking for public input! Apparently, they heard back from many, including energy companies, as well as mining and oil industry trade associations, leading to the "wish list" of policy changes.
How is this different from meetings between Obama transition officials and environmental industry leaders? Before Obama's inauguration, the Washington Post reported, nearly 30 environmental and conservation groups "presented their top policy recommendations to President-elect Barack Obama's transition team yesterday… the groups provided a document laying out recommendations on key federal agencies and issues, including land, air, water, oceans and public health." They also hosted a major conference to highlight over 200 policy changes they wanted. Most of their "wish list" was steadily implemented over the next eight years.
Trump officials, we are informed with righteous indignation, have developed "cozy relationships" with industry leaders, meeting with them frequently. For instance, in May, 2018 EPA employees met with representatives of local mining and petroleum industries in Billings, Montana! They may even have discussed incentives for new copper smelters and coal fired-power plants! The CWP report pronounces that "Oil, gas, and coal companies have taken advantage of the Interior Department's open door, meeting extensively with senior officials, then hiring them when they leave public office."
That sounds sinister, but it is really new? The CWP and its leadership not only met with senior staffers in former Sen. Mark Udall's office to influence policies they supported, but hired them when they left public office. CWP Executive Director Jennifer Rokala should know — she was one of them. So were at least two of her CWP policy staff, as were leaders of their parent organization who once worked for the Obama Interior Department, other Senators, and a host of environmental industry groups.
Presidents implement policies their allies support — that's why they are called allies. While some may pretend to be outraged by the Trump administration's economic policy changes, we ought to remember the ailment these "rollbacks" are intended to cure.
Greg Walcher is president of the Natural Resources Group and author of "Smoking Them Out: The Theft of the Environment and How to Take it Back." He is a Western Slope native.