In Lieu of the Cane, a Reflection on Conservation Policy | Commentary
More than 200 years ago, Rep. Roger Griswold of Connecticut used his wooden cane to bludgeon Rep. Matthew Lyon of Vermont on the House floor. Had Griswold any respect for Lyon, he would have challenged him to a duel.
I raise the Griswold-Lyon affair of 1798 not to commend this conduct, but to show that despite today’s political gridlock, it could be, and indeed has been, a whole lot worse. As a former history teacher, I believe history has invaluable lessons for policymakers because it reveals the range of consequences of policies that have been put into practice. Beyond mere study, it is through application of these lessons to the present that policymakers can learn which principles stand the test of time and which laws must be modernized.
Republicans and Democrats do have shared goals — yes, even in the oft- controversial realm of energy and environmental policy.
Both parties treasure our lands and want to see them healthy and pristine. Both parties want folks to be able to support their families. When it comes to the current policies that order how we conserve and utilize our nation’s resources, however, there is a major disconnect between our respective goals and solutions.
This debate is mired in the premises and prejudices of the past, as we rely upon policies that were written for a different time when our country had different needs. It’s an approach that no longer protects the land, yet leaves powerless the people who use that land. The sad truth is that a large portion of money spent at the federal level in the name of conservation and environmental stewardship will never reach the ground, nor deliver tangible benefits as it’s consumed by growing litigation costs and layers of prescriptive environmental regulations that cause more harm than good.
On Thursday, Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell will deliver testimony on the administration’s budget proposal for fiscal 2016 before the House Committee on Natural Resources. After reviewing the administration’s proposed request over the past month, my verdict is that it falls flat. It’s a budget that looks like it was written for 1975, not 2016. Instead of addressing ongoing problems with our federal lands, water, oceans and energy resources in a meaningful way, this budget proposes throwing thousands of gallons of cash and miles of new regulatory red tape to address problems which swallow up the time and resources of agencies like a bottomless pit. It is an example of the backwards thinking that suffocates innovation and ingenuity.
We should not accept a budget that relies upon this paradigm. I believe our nation’s leaders can do better.
As chairman of the Committee on Natural Resources, I will not regard assertions that conservation and economic development are in opposition. I will not condone rhetoric which hypes the possible origins of problems over solutions. From mitigating catastrophic wildfires and moving closer to energy independence, to increasing access to and modernizing our energy infrastructure on federal lands, we have shared goals and, with any hope, can move forward together.
Our solutions will emerge from both the creative input of stakeholders and a new vision: 1) People come first in resource, energy and environmental policy, and stewardship is a shared responsibility; 2) Natural resources give our nation opportunity and security; 3) Public lands, waters, and oceans are meant to be enjoyed by people and serve our nation’s needs; 4) Government should empower people who know and love the land, when possible; and finally 5) Government should be a problem-solver, not a problem-creator.
Not all will agree on every policy route. That is fine. Disagreement does not quench my real hope that Republicans and Democratic can work together on shared objectives and creative solutions. People may say this is impossible, but I would point them back to that winter day in 1798, and posit that if Congress can surmount the tensions inherent in a public cane-fight, surely my colleagues in the 114th Congress can overcome whatever political rancor exists for the sake of a better present and a brighter future for the American people.
Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, is chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources.
An earlier version of this article misspelled Sally Jewell’s name.