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President Trump Is Secretly On My Side

Recently I wrote a piece about the Trump administration’s efforts to overturn an EPA rule – the methane rule, intended to improve air quality in the West – and how that action seems bound to piss off large numbers of western voters. In the course of the daily political news, I have come across a number of other stories about Trump administration actions that seem determined to piss off large parts of the western political class. Here are some of the stories.

Coal leases and royalties. During President Obama’s second term, the federal government imposed a moratorium on new coal-mining leases on federal land and moved to curtail practices that coal companies have used to avoid paying the full required royalties for coal they mined. The Trump administration has undone both actions. In addition to being short-changed on royalties, western states have been burned repeatedly by coal mining companies that use bankruptcy court to avoid restoring the mined areas. The states have started requiring companies operating on state- or privately-owned land to put funds for restoration in escrow up front, something the federal government has not done.

Privatizing the Bonneville Power Administration. The BPA is the federal agency that operates the dam system on the Columbia and Snake Rivers in the Northwest, as well as much of the electricity transmission backbone for the region. The Trump administration’s budget proposal calls for privatizing the BPA’s transmission operations in the near future, and possibly the generating portion later on. The consensus among analysts is that such privatization would increase retail electricity rates in that area, with the only real question being “By how much?” Granted this isn’t a new idea: privatizing some or all of the BPA was proposed by Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, and Bush II. The current administration has dropped hints about doing the same thing for the Western Area Power Administration as well.  Interestingly, no one seems to be proposing that the other large federal power administration, the Tennessee Valley Authority, be privatized and raise rates in the Southeast.

Sage grouse preservation. The greater sage grouse is a species noted for the males’ peculiar mating display. The sage grouse is considered an indicator species: the habitat necessary to support a healthy sage grouse population supports hundreds of other species. Eleven western states from South Dakota to California have spent more than a decade developing and implementing a compromise plan to preserve habitat while still allowing ranching and resource extraction. The plan involved state governments, ranchers, drillers, and finally the federal Bureau of Land Management. The Department of the Interior recently withdrew from the initiative, rolling back its management agreement for more than 100,000 square miles of BLM land.

 

California Clean Air Act privilege. The Trump administration has attempted to reverse a variety of air pollution emission rules in addition to the methane rule mentioned in my previous post. When those actions were challenged in court, the administration turned the job over to Congress. Since the federal Clean Air Act was amended in 1965 to allow the government to regulate emissions from automobiles, California has been allowed to set its own tougher standards. (Other states are allowed to choose between the federal and California rules, but not to create their own.) The US House has passed a set of amendments to the CAA which will apparently remove California’s privilege to set its own tougher rules in the future. I have said previously in comments that modifications to the Clean Air Act, including punishing California, might be the hill where Senate Majority Leader McConnell is willing to let the legislative filibuster die.

Montana fire emergency. Montana is having a bad fire year. When the Lodgepole set of fires grew past 400 square miles, the state applied for FEMA emergency status. In the past, fires much smaller than the Lodgepole fires have routinely been granted such status, a necessary step to gain access to certain federal resources. FEMA denied the Lodgepole request without providing any reasons. Finally, after Montana’s Governor, both US Senators, and Representative publicly demanded an explanation, the decision was reversed, again without reasons.

Border wall. The wall along the Mexican border proposed during the Trump campaign is opposed by all US Senators/Representatives whose state/district touches the border. In addition, activists have been gearing up to challenge environmental impact statements for the wall, which would cross at least one wilderness area and affect the ranges of several endangered species. The Department of Homeland Security recently used its statutory authority to waive the need for an impact statement, and to bypass other usual regulatory requirements, for a section of wall in Southern California.

Staying away. Donald Trump has visited more foreign countries (seven not counting the Vatican and the Palestinian Authority) than US states west of the Mississippi River (one, Iowa, and he was only 85 miles west of the river). This Wikipedia page says that for the remainder of this year there are confirmed plans to visit another eight foreign countries but no western states. Granted, the West is not particularly Trump country: the Census Bureau’s western region went for Clinton 98-30 in the Electoral College. The region also flipped four state legislative chambers from Republican to Democratic control. Still, no state/local politicians want to feel like they’re being completely ignored.

(Place tongue firmly in cheek.)

The very first guest post I wrote for this site involved a proposed east-west partition of the United States. That makes me a lunatic of sorts; if I were wealthier I could be eccentric. One of the necessary conditions for that partition is that the western states, starting with the political classes, be convinced that it is in their interests to form their own country. The only conclusion I can draw from the Trump administration’s actions listed above is that Donald Trump is determined to do this part of the job for me. Welcome to the conspiracy, Mr. President.  Glad to have you on board.


Image credit: Front page mosaic images from Wikimedia Commons showing a Wyoming surface coal mine, Grand Coulee Dam in Washington, a greater sage grouse, Los Angeles smog, a Montana wildfire, and the border fence between San Diego and Tijuana.


Staff Writer

Michael is a systems analyst, with a taste for obscure applied math. He's interested in energy supplies, the urban/rural divide, regional political differences in the US, and map-like things. Bicycling, and fencing (with swords, that is) act as stress relief. ...more →

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18 thoughts on “President Trump Is Secretly On My Side

  1. It seems The Wall is quite popular in Arizona in places other than next to it. For once, NIMBYism works in favor of my preferred policy.

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  2. It is not right that California can set its own rules and no other state can. Either every state can set their own rules, or all rules must be in line with federal rules.

    (See also, sports book gambling)

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    • I think this very much should depend upon what rules we’re talking about.

      One of my consistent gripes about our system of government is that our layered system is not aligned to any consistent set of principles and problem domains.

      There’s nothing wrong with the idea of reducing the principle agent problem by having different layers of governance tackle different sorts of problems.

      We have a serious issue with different layers of governance all tackling the same sorts of problems and tromping all over each others’ feet.

      This problem is exacerbated by the fact that each layer would rather tell the other layers what to do coupled with how to spend their revenue. I would mind layer-overreach a lot less if when layers told each other what to do they also packaged it with the appropriate funds.

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      • Certainly this was one of my concerns when I was a staffer for a state legislature. One of the things the entire staff worked hard at was to identify potential conflicts between state/federal laws, or between state/local responsibilities. The legislators tended to listen to us on the state/federal things because the feds encourage conformance with big sticks/carrots. Not so much on the state/local thing, where conflicts were much more likely to be driven by some special interest group looking for a better deal*.

        Some amount of overlap seems inevitable. There’s a national interest in clean air — but California needs tougher auto emission standards to achieve a particular goal than most other places. The original arrangement was a compromise brokered by Congress: (a) modest emission limits nationally, (b) tougher local limits for California, and (c) the (then) very important auto industry agreeing that they could meet two different standards as long as the exception was a market as big as California.

        * Building codes are a local matter here, except for schools. The big school districts that span multiple local jurisdictions grew tired of having two cities interpret a phrase in the code like “adequately reinforced” to mean two quite different things. They lobbied to make the Dept of Labor responsible for enforcing building codes for schools state-wide. Of course, after doing that the legislature never funded the activity properly, which eventually led to a scandal and a new school that had to be razed because the contractor’s corner-cutting made it unsafe (and unfixable).

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          • Part of the problem is that school construction — particularly expansions and maintenance — is highly seasonal: the district wants all of the work done over the summer, after school is out in the spring and before it starts again in the fall. If the Dept of Labor staffs for that load, there’s a group of engineers sitting idle for nine months. If they staff assuming the work load is spread uniformly over the year, the group can’t possibly do all of the plan certification and on-site inspections necessary in the summer. Hiring the work done is much more expensive than doing it in house.

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        • There’s a specific carve-out for auto emissions only for California, due to the fact that prior to the Clear Air Act California had already been dealing with ridiculous levels of smog. They argued — and Congress agreed — that the geography of the Los Angeles basin meant that the nationwide standard wasn’t nearly strict enough to prevent problems in LA.

          It’s pretty unusual, but when the Clean Air act came out, California was already regulating all of that (including tailpipe emissions) in an attempt to get rid of a serious smog problem, so I can understand the waiver — both why California sought it and Congress granted it.

          And that’s why California can set tougher emissions, because the LA basin basically traps pollution like nobody’s business. (Which is, in fact, true).

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            • Geography, with emissions trapped by mountains, is a problem throughout the Southwest. The south end of California’s Central Valley has gotten really bad. Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Salt Lake City all sit in bowls. The northern part of Colorado’s urban Front Range from Denver up to Fort Collins is confined on three sides; the fourth side gets closed by “backdoor” cold fronts that approach from the east, and by the Denver cyclone effect.

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          • Right. That’s all I was trying to convey (in substantially less detail). There’s one CA carve out (and other states can select either strict CA rules or loose federal rules).

            Other than that one law, however, it’s more like school textbooks where there are essentially two standards that have emerged (CA and Texas) so other states basically follow one or the other, but it’s a matter of market power (and willingness-to-lead) not anything unfair.

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