New Trump Picks to Bring Public Lands and Environmental Regulations to the Corporate Slaughterhouse

Center for Biological Diversity Executive Director Kieran Suckling says ”dark days” are ahead with South Carolina Republican Congressman Mick Mulvaney as head the Office of Management and first term Republican Congressman Ryan Zinke Budget as Department of Interior

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Story Transcript

KIM BROWN: Welcome to The Real News Network in Baltimore. I’m Kim Brown. Two more Cabinet announcements from the Trump transition team were made this week — South Carolina Republican Congressman Mick Mulvaney to head the Office of Management and Budget, and to lead the Department of Interior, Trump has tapped first term Republican Congressman from Montana, Ryan Zinke.

And to explore these picks and their policies, we’re joined today with Keiran Suckling. He’s the Executive Director of the Center for Biological Diversity, which is an international conservation group devoted to the protection of endangered species and their habitats. He’s joining us today from Tucson, Arizona. Keiran, thank you so much for being here.

KEIRAN SUCKLING: Oh, thanks for having me on.

KIM BROWN: Well, let’s start with the Department of the Interior with first term Congressman Ryan Zinke. He was elected to Congress in 2015. Actually, there was a piece on The Hill that said that Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell was trying to convince Donald Trump not to tap Congressman Zinke, because he wanted him to possibly make a Senate run in 2017. But what do we know about him and his policies towards the Interior?

KEIRAN SUCKLING: Well, despite being a young Congressman, he’s got a pretty clear record on the environment — and that is he wants to dramatically increase the amount of logging, mining, grazing, oil development, oil drilling, and especially, and kind of surprisingly, coal mining, even though the coal industry is collapsing. So, he is bad news in that regard for the management of our public lands.

KIM BROWN: Well, the interesting thing is that numerous news reports indicate that he came to the attention of President-elect Trump through Donald Trump, Jr., who is a big hunter/angler. And they both belong to a hunter/angler’s club. And it’s unusual that — I guess maybe not unusual — but perplexing that an outdoorsman would have aggressive views towards destroying the habitat of which he likes to enjoy his outdoor sports.

KEIRAN SUCKLING: Right. Well, you know, virtually everyone who has been a Secretary of Interior is a hunter and an angler. So, that’s really not unique here. And while certainly many hunters and fishermen have a strong environmental ethic, they don’t all have it. So, and a lot of the species that they’re interested in hunting for, they’re habitat generalists that can survive anywhere — deer, elk and so forth. These are not really the sensitive species that are going to go extinct and have population collapses when you’ve got too much oil drilling, coal mining and logging. So, it’s not entirely surprising that his environmental policies are so bad.

KIM BROWN: In the weeks following the election, there were some bubblings coming out of the Trump camp that some of his advisors were pushing him to open Native-held lands, Native American Reservations, for mineral and oil exploration. How do we expect that Congressman Zinke would handle such a request were it put to him?

KEIRAN SUCKLING: I think he’s going to be very much in favor of that. The Native American nations control very large areas of land in the US and it has not been mined and drilled for oil or uranium as heavily as their traditional public lands. And so, the corporations have been really itching to get in that door. What’s limited them is that Federal oversight of these lands and oppositions from the tribes have pushed them back. And so now what we’re seeing is this effort to essentially privatize these communally-held public lands because the industry is smart enough to know, once you privatize it, it immediately starts to get sold off and it’s going to go to the highest bidder and the highest bidder is always going to be the corporations.

KIM BROWN: Ryan Zinke has described himself, Keiran, as a Teddy Roosevelt Republican. How do you interpret that?

KEIRAN SUCKLING Well, you know, what he’s getting at there is that he is opposed to selling off our public lands and, unfortunately, you know, the Republicans have swung so far to the right that it’s now a mainstream position in the Republican Party that we should actually give away or sell off our private lands. And Zinke, to his credit, has opposed that. He’s even taken some pretty hard stands against it when pushed by other Republicans. And so that’s good, but on the other hand, he’s smart enough to know, as is the oil industry, that it’s far more important to control management of the land than own it. In fact, if you own it, you incur a tremendous financial cost.

And so, for Zinke, he’s saying, well, let’s let the Federal government bear the cost of managing these lands and just turn control of it over to the oil companies, the mining companies, and the loggers.

So, I don’t take a whole lot of heart in the fact that he is in favor of retaining them in public ownership. And I’ve seen some folks, “Oh, well, this is really good.” Well, my God, what a low bar. That’s like saying, “Wow, it’s really good that the head of our new Civil Rights Agency is not an avowed racist.” Well, yeah, you would expect that. That would be the absolute minimum. It’s not good news, per se.

KIM BROWN: Well, let’s switch gears here for a moment and take a look at President-elect Trump’s other Cabinet appointment that he made this week — South Carolina Republican Congressman Mick Mulvaney. He is tapped to head the Office of Budget and Management. And Mick Mulvaney is an interesting character — he sort of rode into Congress on the Tea Party wave of 2010. He’s a member of the House Freedom Caucus. He also supports a balanced budget amendment and didn’t have a real big problem with having the Federal government shut down over budget disputes. What do you think about him leading the budget here for the incoming Trump Administration?

KEIRAN SUCKLING: Yeah, I’m glad you folks are looking into this because the Office of Management and Budgets and Agency, most people have never heard of. You think of budget, you think, oh, that’s some boring stuff. This is one of the most powerful Federal agencies. Every single law that’s up for review will pass through it. Every single Federal policy that’s up for development will pass through it. And the OMB can stop any of those that it wants. It can subject them to this ridiculous cost-benefit analysis and really has this tremendous power over all Congressional and Administrative policies — so, very important.

Mulvaney is an anti-science guy. He’s a climate denier. He doesn’t believe the Federal government should be in the business of funding scientific research and he’s got his finger — or will have his finger — on the spigot to shut down funding of virtually any program or agency that he’s opposed to.

KIM BROWN: It’s kind of interesting because it seems as though Mick Mulvaney’s approach to so-called fiscal responsibility is not in sync with how Donald Trump has operated as a businessman. Donald Trump has called himself the king of debt. He has filed bankruptcy numerous times. That doesn’t necessarily mean financial solvency if your businesses are filing for bankruptcy. But this is a strong signal, his selection of Mulvaney, that he intends to be strong on fiscal accountability through Congress? How are we to interpret this?

KEIRAN SUCKLING: It’ll be interesting because I would say Mulvaney is far more aligned with Republican Congress, including Paul Ryan, in terms of stopping government spending and rolling it back. It’s not been Trump’s message. In fact, Trump’s been talking about doing a big infrastructure … plus projects. So, we were wondering whether it was going to be a battle between Trump and Ryan on the spending issue but, now that Mulvaney is in OMB, that conflict has potentially shifted inside the administration. So, at this point, it’s hard to know how Trump and Mulvaney are going to work together.

Mulvaney, based on his past, is not someone who compromises. So, I don’t think he’s just going to simply take orders from Trump and carry them out. So, at this point, it’s really kind of mysterious how this is going to work because their perspectives have been radically different.

KIM BROWN: Keiran, I want you to go back to what you were saying earlier about how much power the Office of Management and Budget actually has, because it is within this office, and with this election by Donald Trump, that many are speculating that this is where a lot of President Obama’s legacy on environmental protections, and possibly the accommodations that he has signed into Executive Order for the Children of Undocumented People, that this is possibly where a lot of this could become undone.

KEIRAN SUCKLING: Yeah, absolutely, because the Office of Management and Budget, their job is to review every Federal policy existing and proposed, determine whether they are “financially sound” — whether the agencies producing them have considered the economic impacts enough — and if it thinks any failure occurs on these lines, it can stop these things cold. And what’s important here is it can stop them not through outright rejecting them — which is a public process — it can stop them by simply delaying action. It just sits on the desk for six months, one year, two years, three years. It’s effectively pocket-vetoed by the Office of Budget and Management.

So, it’s a huge threat and, in particular, because one of the big advances that we saw under the Obama Administration was the development of economic morals to start telling us the cost of pollution, the cost of racist policies, the benefits of immigration, the benefits of cleaning up our environment.

And so, the Obama Administration really started for the first time to do a decent job of articulating why it’s good to clean up pollution, why not dealing with global warming will cost trillions of dollars. And I can guarantee you that Mulvaney is going to come in, throw all those models out and drag us back to the past where the view is that anything done to protect the environment, workers’ lives, women’s safeties, is purely a cost with no benefit at all. And we’re going to go back to those dark days, undoubtedly.

KIM BROWN: Indeed. We’ve been speaking with Keiran Suckling. He’s the Executive Director of the Center for Biological Diversity. We’ve been talking about the latest picks from Trump’s transition team in his Cabinet — Congressman Mick Mulvaney will head the Office of Management and Budget. Also, Congressman Ryan Zinke from Montana will be the new Secretary of the Department of Interior should he be confirmed by the Senate. Keiran, thank you so much for joining us, we really appreciate it.

KEIRAN SUCKLING: Thanks for having me on.

KIM BROWN: And thanks for watching The Real News Network.

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