The November 2018 election brings new opportunities and challenges for Eastern Sierra’s public lands. Democrats won enough House races to take back control of the House of Representatives which means Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona will take the gavel as the chair of the House Natural Resources Committee. We are optimistic Grijalva’s years of support for public lands will help many of California’s public lands bills move forward.
California has 44 million acres of federal public lands. Our partners at CalWild report that, as a result of the election:
- 23%, or 10.4 million acres,of California’s federal public lands are now represented by members of the House of Representatives who’ve gone on record in support of sound conservation policies.
- This is the most public land that has ever been represented by potential champions for conservation.
- Several new potential public lands champions were elected from California districts.
- Another 35% of California’s federal public land acres remain represented by members of the House who are sometimes in support of sound conservation policies.
With Democrats controlling the House, we expect investigations of the Trump Administration officials to intensify. Legislators will be looking into Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s decisions to reduce Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments, among other controversial actions. Rumors abound of Zinke leaving office before the end of the year with David Bernhardt, the current Deputy Secretary of the Interior, a likely successor. If you thought Zinke was bad keep a watch on Bernhardt as an insider with much power to open up our public lands to more resource extraction in the name of profit.
The good news is the scariest legislative threats – such as attacks to the Wilderness Act, large-scale public lands transfers and gutting of environmental laws may be stopped in their tracks because House Republicans don’t have the votes now or the leadership in committees to advocate for them.
Our defense work is not over though. Despite greater oversight and opportunities for public lands bills, administrative attacks continue to move forward such as the national monument review, the Cadiz water project, and the re-opening the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan. Republicans strengthening their majority in the Senate may make it easier for the President to get the 60 votes needed to confirm his nominees, from the courts to his cabinet. Many federal appointments are currently vacant and the Trump Administration and Senate Republicans are highly motivated to change the federal judiciary by confirming as many conservative judges as possible. This will have a delayed, but major, effect on environmental and administrative law, with conservative judges likely giving less deference to land management agencies.
Additionally, the further partisan division in Congress may mean we won’t see much get done in conservation- or at least we will have to work a lot harder for it in the coming year. Congress is in lame-duck session for the next couple weeks and it’s our last chance to get some important bills passed into law before going back to the drawing board in January. Top priorities include the protection of the Alabama Hills and California Desert and permanently funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Although funding still exists for this program, Congress let it expire in September compromising America’s most popular conservation program and the critical source of funding for public land acquisition and recreation infrastructure going into the future. No matter your view of the upcoming year in the 116th Congress it’s going to be exciting!