BONNER COHEN: The White House can't keep ignoring the GOP's concerns on environmental policy

Frustrated by the refusal of the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) to respond to a six-week-old request to supply documents relating to taxpayer-funding of a Biden administration plan to vastly expand federal control over America’s lands and waters, two House committee chairmen are demanding a full accounting of the “America the Beautiful Challenge.”

In a May 7 letter to CEQ Chair Brenda Mallory, House Natural Resources Chairman Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) pointed out that CEQ “has failed to comply and provide a substantive reply … to the Committee’s requests.”

At issue is how the White House is using taxpayer money to fund its “30 x 30 Plan,” a scheme to “protect” (meaning control) “at least” 30 percent of the nation’s land and waters by 2030.  Unveiled in January 2021, and since relabeled the “America the Beautiful Challenge,” or simply “Challenge,” the initiative has largely flown under the radar screen amid wars in Europe and the Middle East, the crisis at the Southern border, and the rising cost of food and energy. 

But the prospect of locking up the nation’s natural resources at a time of mounting global tensions and persistent domestic inflation, coupled with the White House’s refusal to cooperate with the committee’s requests, spurred Westerman and Gosar to turn up the heat.

The two committee chairmen set a May 14 deadline for CEQ to turn over “All documents and communications, including but not limited to documents, memoranda of understanding, emails, and internal communications of which CEQ is aware between any agencies and the NFWF [National Fish and Wildlife Foundation] referring or relating to the establishment and operation of the Challenge from January 20, 2021, to the present.”

CEQ was also instructed to disgorge all relevant documents relating or referring to the reallocation of discretionary money to the Challenge, and to provide documents describing the source of funding for the initiative, as well as the amount contributed to the program by each federal agency.  Tellingly, the two lawmakers, whose committees have oversight over CEQ, included in their request, “The legal authorities provided in statute to utilize the funds in support of the Challenge.”

Westerman and Gosar further expressed their concern that outside groups friendly to the administration could receive funding from the program, including those currently suing the federal government, under active investigation by Congress, accepting funds from hostile foreign nations, or guilty of human-rights violations.

And because the 30 x 30 plan ultimately involves increasing the amount of land under government control, the lawmakers want CEQ to reveal whether money can be used “to fund projects that acquire new land.”

Lest Biden officials at CEQ think they can continue to ignore requests from Congress, the committee chairmen pointed out in their letter that the U.S. Supreme Court in Barenblatt v. United States (1939) ruled that Congress has a duty “to look diligently into every affair of government” and “use every means of acquainting itself with the acts and the disposition of the administrative agents of the government.”   

“Your silence and lack of a response to the Committee Letter suggest that CEQ is deliberately engaging in obstruction to frustrate the oversight power of Congress,” Westerman and Gosar wrote.

CEQ may have good reason to drag its feet.  The Challenge is the child of a Biden executive order, not legislation passed by Congress.  Because money, including taxpayer money, is fungible, skilled political operatives, wise in the ways of the administrative state, are adept at moving funds around to further their political objectives.  These elaborate shell games with public funds are meant to deceive.  Having congressional committees with jurisdiction poking their noses into the important business of saving the planet is an annoyance the White House thinks it can ignore.

Along with stiffing Congress on the funding of 30 x 30, the Biden administration is taking other steps to ensure that the fruits of the nation’s abundant natural resources stay largely beyond the reach of families and businesses that need them the most.  In April, the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issued a new rule overturning eight decades of – statutorily mandated – “multiple use” of BLM lands.

In a seismic shift in BLM policy, the agency will no longer prioritize oil and gas drilling, hard-rock mining, cattle grazing, and recreation on the 245 million acres (10 percent of the U.S. land mass) it manages. Instead, the agency will look more favorably on restoring public lands by auctioning off “restoration leases” and “mitigation leases” to entities, such as environmental groups, who will ensure that the resources are permanently off-limits.  It will also prioritize intermittent renewable energy (wind turbines and solar panels) over fossil-fuel production.

Both the Biden 30 x 30 plan and the new BLM rule will face court challenges.  The outcome of that litigation will bear directly on America’s place in the world and on the livelihoods of ordinary working Americans.

Bonner Russell Cohen, Ph. D., is a senior policy analyst with CFACT.

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