BY FROMA HARROP
It’s easy to tell when the Trump Administration has nasty plans for the environment. The officials in charge spare the places where they or their political allies operate. The examples are as egregious as they are bizarre.
Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke is on a big push to transfer large chunks of federal land to various Western states. Just not in his state of Montana.
Zinke may offer elaborate explanations for why he’s exempting Montana, where the federal government owns 29% of the landmass. The obvious would be Zinke’s possible interest in running for Montana governor.
But don’t all those conservative Trump voters in Montana want the state to take over land now managed by the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management? Actually, they don’t. And they don’t for good reasons. They can envision the tawdry dealings that would ensue.
First the federal government would transfer land to the state. Then the state would declare that it can’t afford to manage the land. So the state politicians would sell it to their friends in the oil, gas, mining and timber businesses.
Up would come the “no trespassing” signs. Hikers, hunters and other sportsmen would find themselves locked out of the natural amenities on which they once roamed free.
Raising worries is Zinke’s evident fondness for the high life. He chartered a jet from an oil executive for a flight out of Las Vegas – where he had given a speech before a major donor’s hockey team. Taxpayers were billed $12,375 for the flight. [Expedia has flights from Vegas to Kalispell, MT, for $144, with only one stop.]
Zinke booked more than $14,000 in government helicopters for two months of travel that could have been done in a few hours of driving. The taxpayers spent $139,000 on three sets of double doors in Zinke’s office.
Imagine the possibilities for payback were Zinke to grease the moving of public lands into private hands at bargain prices. The big concern would be that Zinke probably couldn’t get elected governor if he did this to Montana [at least before the vote]. Hence the Montana exemption.
The Trump Administration announced in January that it would open almost all of America’s offshore waters to drilling. Except for Florida’s.
Florida is home to Trump ally Gov. Rick Scott. Scott is now running for the U.S. Senate. Opposition to offshore drilling burns fierce in Florida, among conservatives as well as others. Without nice beaches, where would Florida be? What would happen to an economy based on tourism? The BP Deepwater Horizon disaster ruined the tourism season on much of Florida’s Gulf coast. Tourists even avoided areas where the muck never hit the sands.
Hence the Florida exemption.
California, New York, the coastal New England states – they’re another matter. They didn’t vote for Trump. As seen in the recent tax law, these states are ripe for plundering.
But what about South Carolina? South Carolina was Trump country. Its Republican leadership expressed outrage that the state wasn’t exempted like Florida, but to no avail. It too has a tourism industry and fisheries to protect. Trump’s calculus could be that come 2020, South Carolina will again vote for him anyway. Florida is a swing state.
You know what’s most remarkable about Trump’s penchant for letting industry do as it will except in places where it would hurt his political cronies? It’s how honking crazy it is.
We no longer inhabit an America where environmental policies are liked or disliked but not gerrymandered to help favorites in the president’s political court. As for Zinke, would some environmental group quietly slip him a few million dollars if he would just go away?
– Froma Harrop’s columns appear regularly in The Oklahoma Observer