Watch Your New Rascals: a Call to Action

My all time favorite water source in the Grayson Highlands. Do we really want drilling companies fracking with our ground water?

Looking back at Election Night

I spent election night cowboy camping on Cowrock Mountain. I had a very weak cell signal and couldn’t really tell much about what was going on. Eventually I gave up trying and went to sleep. About 2:00 AM I woke up after getting a whiff of a nearby forest fire. I checked Twitter and while only a few tweets would load, the ones I saw were mostly WTF?!?!.  The next day, when it became clear that Trump had won, I felt as if civilization as we know it was coming to an end.  I was so bummed I almost went home from Neal’s Gap.  I’ve been around the block at couple of times.  My presidential candidate has lost before, but I’ve never felt that the consequences of this were as dire.  I’ve grown to accept that half the voters were going to feel this way no matter who won.  I think we all deserved a better result.  One of my friends had said that both parties had picked the only candidates that the other party’s candidate had a chance to beat. I’ll let someone smarter than me write about how we got to that place.

So the rascals have been thrown out and new rascals have been put in their place. I wonder if anyone is paying attention to what these new rascals want to do.  You may ask, “Why is a backpacking nerd writing about this in his backpacking nerd blog?”  Turns out they plan to do a lot that should royally piss off all backpacking nerds.  My intent is not to rant about personalities, it’s actions currently in the works that concern me.  As a moderate, I like to think the right answer is somewhere in the middle.  We don’t have many looking for it these days.  After reading this, there will be some who want to call me a Libtard Treehugger, but I believe that most people following The Trek will be just as concerned about some of these proposed actions as I am.  I’m not going to site a lot of news stories, although I will give you a few links if your interested in more information.  I would encourage you to do your own homework.  If you are as bothered about some of these moves as I am, contact your representatives, share your feelings and opinions with them and remember in 2018 if they don’t seem to listen to you.   At this point most us are learning to be suspect of news…another topic for a blogger much smarter than me to write about…My only source will be the Republican Party platform.  I’ve inserted a link for the skeptics.  The part of this document that has me so upset is the part about the environment which starts on page 17.  Let us forget political parties and look at the issues, do our homework and communicate our will to our representatives.  That’s how our system is supposed to work.  And if we find that representatives  serve other masters, let’s remember to vote the rascals out in 2018!

Disposing of Federal Lands

Congress shall immediately pass universal legislation providing for a timely and orderly mechanism requiring the federal government to convey certain federally controlled public lands to states. (GOP platform:  Last paragraph in the right hand column on page 21)

The GOP platform asserts that federal lands, since they are removed from the tax rolls, make it hard for local governments to raise the revenue they need to support local government and ends up with assertion that local boots on the ground are in a better position to make judgements about how these lands should be conserved.  So if these lands are to be conserved and simply transferred to state control, how is this going to solve the problem of these lands not being subject to local property taxes?  The answer seems to be harvest the timber and drill for oil and natural gas.  Exploitation of natural resources is all over this section. Some are afraid cash strapped state governments will simple sell or lease these lands and the public may only enjoy limited access.  Early actions of Congess suggest this planned transfer is in the works and some western states have introduced legislation in their state houses to prepare for this. Does anyone really think this is a good idea?  To fully fund our national parks, each citizen has to chip in about $1.50 (total budget is $500 million).  This doesn’t even consider that drilling leases on federal land already generate about $900 million a year.  While researching this post I found that US royalty rates (fees paid by energy companies drilling on Federal land has not changed since 1920), while royalty rates for drilling on state and privately held land has increased significantly.

Selling oil leases doesn’t in itself  create jobs.  Drilling oil wells does that.  Oil companies don’t really like to drill wells when the price of oil is low.  While the GOP platform suggests that keeping oil in the ground is the energy policy of the Democratic Party, the reality is that oil companies are simply making business decisions to do this.  They know oil is limited resource and getting the highest possible profit for these resources simply makes good sense.  (Interesting article about oil leases.)

Congress changed their rules to make it easier to transfer federal lands to states.  Under former rules such transfers would come with a cost related to the potential income the lands could generate.  The new rules essentially assert that these lands have no value.  By asserting that the lands in question have no value, transfer to the states is greatly simplified.     If the land has no value, the the states would not be required to pay for it.    House Resolution 621 directs the Secretary of the Interior to sell some Federal Lands.  While the bill suggests that these lands have been identified as disposable, scads of questions come to mind.  Identified by whom?  Were public hearings held about this?  What criteria were used to identify these “disposable” lands?  Is it a radical notion to suggest that all US citizens have a stake in these lands rather than only those who by accident of birth or fate end up living in the same state?  Tourist come from all over the world to veto revel in the wonderful spaces our government has had the wisdom to preserve.  These tourists spend money.  They create jobs.  Outdoor industries generate $650 billion in the United States in part because of our access to federal lands.  Are we ready to kill this incredibly beautiful golden goose?

I read that concerned citizens calling their representatives stopped the sale of some federal land.  While I wrote the preceding paragraphs weeks ago, I decided to leave them in to illustrate how powerful our voices can be.  It is not at all clear that they have stopped plans to transfer some federal lands to state control.  Pay attention, folks!

Gutting the Endangered Species Act

There is certainly a need to protect certain species threatened worldwide with extinction. However, the Endangered Species Act (ESA) should not include species such as gray wolves and other species if these species exist elsewhere in healthy numbers in another state or country.  (GOP platform:  beginning of the first paragraph in the left column on page 22.)

The Endangered Species Act has made a difference. Do we really want to not protect mountain lions, for example because there are plenty of mountain lions in Mexico?  Wouldn’t you give your right arm to see one in the wild (this may be an unfortunate choice of words…)  Science tells us that an ecosystems stability springs from its diversity.  Eliminating species may have unforeseen consequences.  We are stewards of this land.  Haven’t enough species been driven to extinction on our watch already?   A few years ago, while walking through the Shenandoah National Park, I saw a large black cat stalking a deer.  My working name for this beast was panther, but what do you call something that really hasn’t been seen in this place in my lifetime?  It didn’t look full grown.  It only weighed about 45 pounds (it was almost exactly the size of my dog at the time).  I don’t know what it was, but seeing it was a thrill…the kind of thrill I would love for my grandson to experience one day.  If I ever saw a gray wolf, I would react the same way.

Relaxing EPA Standards

The central fact of any sensible environmental policy is that, year by year, the environment is improving. Our air and waterways are much healthier than they were a few decades ago. As a nation, we have drastically reduced pollution, mainstreamed recycling, educated the public, and avoided ecological degradation.  (GOP platform: Beginning of the second paragraph in the left hand column on page 21)

Thus starts a very interesting paragraph on how totally messed the Environmental Protection Agency is. It seems to suggest that the EPA had nothing to do with these improvements. I know that the business world would love it if no one ever told them no. Mileage and air quality standards were initially resisted by our automobile manufacturers, but the reality is they figured it out and produce safer, cleaner and more energy efficient products as a result.  I think most consumers consider these factors when making decisions about purchases.  Are there legions of American citizens out there who want a more hands-off approach to the air we breath and the water we drink?  I wonder who these people are.  I fear most of them aren’t people at all.  I fear they are businesses who are afraid tough environmental standards will impact their bottom line.

The Republican Party Platform asserts that states should set environmental standards.  California applies for and usually receives a waiver about air quality standards every year.  Their standards are tougher than those of the EPA.  Interesting to see that Scott Pruitt wouldn’t say whether or not he would approve California’s waiver.  Water flows downstream. Do we really want to give our upstream neighbors the right to veto our environmental standards?  The atmosphere doesn’t recognize state borders.  How can states control their air quality when so many factors impacting it aren’t within their borders?  Giving responsibility for environmental standards to the states simply makes no sense.  Would this be a good time to point out that Pat McCrory is now the former governor of a red state in part because he felt his former employer should be able to put a higher concentrations of a known carcinogen in the ground water than the state’s science advisors?

State regulators and industry representatives in Kentuck rewrote coal ash rules making the state power company self regulating in terms of coal ash disposal. Really?  Sure, this has never really worked in the past, but let’s give it another go!

Trump’s nominee to head the EPA, Scott Pruitt has sued the EPA 14 times.  He’s a strong advocate for oil companies and has vigorously supported their use of fracking in his home state of Oklahoma.  Oklahoma has a lot of earth quakes these days as a result of all this fracking.  While oil companies say fracking is safe, we all know that their profits give them strong incentives to downplay the risk.  I fear they are more interested in improved yield than environmental consequences of their actions.  I know I would feel a lot more comfortable knowing that the EPA is looking out for my interests.  Just to be clear, relaxing EPA standards means allowing higher levels of all sorts things proven to be bad for us into the air and water.  Is there really wide spread support for this?

As I was growing up, we worked to put a man on the moon.  We had goal and worked toward it.  Together we achieved great things.  I believe, if we had the will, we could figure out how to enjoy the benefits of technology without spoiling the environment.  All the energy we need could come from renewable sources.  We could live in a world without waste.  It’s all just engineering.  I believe, if we have will, we can create this future.  Or maybe we would rather the Germans and Chinese took care of it for us…

If you are interested in more information about this, here are some links to related stories:

Washington Post story about GOP rules changes about the value of federal lands

NPR story about transferring federal land to states:

Another article from Business Insider about transferring Federal lands to the states

Story from the Atlantic on Scott Pruit, Trump’s nominee to head the EPA

Opinion Piece by Peter Metcalf, CEO of black Diamond Inc. from the Salt Lake Tribune  

Here’s a government link to help you find your representatives…


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