Eye on Washington | June 2022

Dan Sealy, NEC Legislative Analyst

The Current DC Climate and You 

As the local beauty of spring in DC moves to the storms and unpredictability of late spring and summer, the national political climate also moves into a somewhat forecastable but stormy pattern. The bipartisan legislative gains of early spring melt in the heat of arriving summer and the fever of elections. Every one of the 435 seats in the House of Representatives including our Representative, Huffman (D-CA) and 34 seats in the Senate, including Padilla (D-CA) are up for election or reelection. Attention to passage of meaningful legislation runs up against the wall of time-consuming fundraising and heightened rhetoric. The majority (currently Democrat) is willing to cut unrelated amendments if the minority will compromise and support passage of bills. The minority (currently Republican) counterpoint is to deprive opponents of wins that help with reelection back home unless the legislation is extremely popular in their hometowns as well. Result: unpredictable, stormy climate.

Economists still point to important indicators showing the nation’s economy is doing well. But the stressors of the pandemic, which opened up entirely new work and industry directions, coupled with the huge costs of the United States support for Ukraine in this destructive and evil war, will continue to have significant impacts on the aspirational promises to voters of resource protections and innovation in sustainability. The budget is not infinite. Hundreds of millions of dollars to defend Ukraine and democracy competes with endangered species protections, public lands, climate research, and all sorts of conservation efforts.

A Glimpse Back

During the last administration, we published informative briefs on members of the cabinet and agency heads to help readers understand the leanings and potential for important conservation appointments. Appointments were complicated by the administration’s avoidance of the Senate confirmation process for everything from secretaries to important agency heads. The long-term viability and legality of a number of decisions signed by some of those unconfirmed heads is still largely unknown though there have been challenges.

Contrast that with the confirmed appointees that are responsible for the nation’s resources and ecological health. Instead of a citizen writing a letter to a generic “Whomever happens to see this …”, a letter of support or opposition now can actually be addressed to a known individual in most cases.

Generalizations may not be all that helpful but the conservation credentials of the current appointees to those positions stack up favorably to those of the previous administration. Fewer come from a background of either a monetary conflict of interest, such as Sec. of the Interiors, Zinke and Bernhardt compared to Sec. Deb Haaland, or have a history laced with political beliefs that stymied mission-important work such as protecting endangered species, fighting the climate crisis and cleaning up dangerous toxins. In the next few months, I will try to give readers biographical notes on the people in this administration who have a direct duty to protect and conserve the nation’s ecological resources.

A Time for Each to Determine a Strategy 

Elections, both local and national, will consume much of the public space. Voters need to ask candidates questions to clarify their positions on important conservation topics and weigh the “perfect candidate” against the “best candidate” regardless of party affiliation.  More importantly, each person should think beyond November and make a plan to stay focused on the most essential conservation goals they have and find a way out of the rhetoric on both sides so those goals can be accomplished through individual actions and work with organizations.