It recently dawned on me that our political environment is like floating an Idaho river. We’ve been in a long pool, pretty calm, most recently camped on a beach. While we cannot see the whitewater rapids below, we can most certainly hear a big one. You hear the rumbling first. I think we can assume there’s some scary water ahead.
One rule in boating translates well to conservation. Running a river, you don’t focus on the rocks in a rapid. You focus on the flow of the river through the rocks. Spend too much time looking at or thinking about the rocks and that’s where you’ll end up. And that might include a cold swim.
As we prepare for the next few years, rather than dwell on all the uncertainty and potential problems we cannot yet see, I’ve been focused on what we know. Things like the power of grassroots and how people of all types rally behind public lands, clean water and clean air. I’m focused on the people who understand how commonsense conservation protects their family’s quality of life. I’m focused on the power of our champions in Congress, our strong mayors and city councils, and the many in business who are already working for sustainability.
These last few weeks I’ve tried to not think about the hairy rapids ahead. There are still too many unknowns. That said, you could say scouting reports are coming in. We’re learning more about the rapids ahead, and it’s time to start tightening down the straps and getting ready for the waves.
Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt has been directly challenging Environmental Protection Agency regulations in court for years and is now tapped to run that agency. Our government’s lead voice on issues like climate change and clean air and water will now be headed by someone who, apparently, does not support core programs of the agency.
A Department of Energy leader has not been nominated, but the transition team has already sent DOE a 74-question inquiry that seeks names of staff who have attended domestic and international climate talks, details on loan-guarantee programs for renewable energy, and names of the highest paid employees at the department’s national laboratories. As one U.S. senator has already noted, the "request suggests that your administration may intend to retaliate against career employees… (This) would violate U.S. law."
Cathy McMorris Rodgers is expected to be nominated as interior secretary. The highest-ranking woman in the U.S. House, McMorris Rodgers is a polished conservative and champion of increased oil and gas drilling on public lands. As the primary steward of the nation’s public lands, she has authored a bill to sell off public lands. She would be well prepared to lead the president-elect’s stated plans to roll back land protections now in place. A westerner from Spokane, she’s been close to a number of public land collaboratives, similar to those ICL regularly participates in. "And while she has been gracious and dignified and attentive in meetings," a long-time colleague and friend described, "it’s kind of a velvet shaft." She’ll do "whatever conservative leadership wants…that is what Cathy has always done."
You don’t enter rapids focused on the rocks. And likewise, focusing on the rocks is not how ICL will keep moving forward. You’ve got to follow the flow, nimbly responding to the drops and holes, but always tracking the flow because that’s where the water-and the public-is. We’re pretty close to leaving the long pool. We’re getting lined up for the rapids ahead, and preparing for the challenges to come. Because of your support, ICL is focused on what’s made us strong and ready for the waves for over 40 years. Until Jan. 20, it’s just noise and anticipation. But it certainly does look like a wild ride ahead.