Government should employ founding document principles - July/August 2023
I suppose it is no surprise that the current administration, after receiving a strong rejection of their promulgated WOTUS rules, should next shift the focus to keeping the overall rule, but fixing those parts of the rule it feels were rejected by the courts. This approach would only make sense if the fundamental principle for the rule was not flawed. Trying a piece meal approach will mean protracted legal fights as well as millions of dollars spent by the regulated public to determine once again whether a fix to the rule is in fact in compliance with the Supreme Court’s decision or is merely more lipstick on the pig.
At the same time as the WOTUS proposal many of us in agriculture were alarmed by the 30 X 30 executive order from the President. The alarm in the West was even more pronounced because most of us were aware that Washington, D.C. controlled a significant land area and even more minerals. Wyoming has roughly 48 % of our surface estate managed from D.C. and estimates as high as 80% of the mineral resources.
We saw much resistance to the concept early on. As time went by, the 30 X 30 concept got renamed. Or perhaps some new lipstick was added. The newly renamed 30 X 30 looked, as one state agency head said, like an airplane running out of fuel without a place to land.
With the publishing of the Department of Interior’s “…rules on Conservation and Landscape Health” it is obvious that the plane landed at Interior. The rule relies on terms that are similar to things we read in the 30 X 30 such as “protect intact landscapes,” “restore degraded habitat,” and “maintain functioning and productive ecosystems and work to ensure their resilience.” The rule references a number of Executive Orders that would mitigate the effects of climate change (EO 13990), build resilience against the impacts of climate change (EO 14008) and help implement Secretary Order 3399 to establish a Departmental Climate Task Force.
The rule, like the 30 X 30 concept, is loaded with ill-defined terms that may sound good to some but have no agreed upon meaning. Conserving 30% of the land by 2030 ran head on into a similar problem when it became evident that no one in D.C. had any idea how much land was already conserved in the U.S. Another 30 X 30 effort which has not been heard from for some time was a national inventory of lands that are currently conserved. Arguments erupted over what conserved lands even were. While the current administration hasn’t defined what that term means, they launched a huge rule on conservation and landscape health. In government, defining terms is important.
This past 4th of July reminded me that one of America’s founding documents, the Declaration of Independence was a masterpiece of terms that were not ill defined. “We hold these Truths to be self-evident that all Men are created equal. . .” Thomas Jefferson, who was credited as primary author for these words borrowed heavily from the recently adopted Virginia Declaration of Rights. Our Declaration of Independence was an effort by a “Committee of Five” who then forwarded the draft of it to the Continental Congress. Jefferson later wrote that this document, was “an expression of the American mind.” Jefferson, the Committee of Five and the Continental Congress wrote a document where everyone understood the terms used. I think how nice it would be if our current bureaucrats and Congress would employ a similar technique.
By Ken Hamilton, Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation Executive Vice President