PART 6 - THE POLITICS
by Jim Beers
March 1, 2003
This is part six of a series.
Invasive Species, like Endangered Species, cry out for someone to do "something." Anyone shown the photos of destructive insects, extensive weed stands, or slithering Brown Tree Snakes understands "we need to do something." Most politicians survive by capitalizing on such things.
As I write this, White House staff members are considering an Invasive Species initiative. This morning I received a copy of a Request for (Congressional) Original Cosponsors for a National Aquatic Invasive Species Act and an Aquatic Invasive Species Research Act. These bills are being sponsored by Senator Levin (D-MI) and Congressmen Gilchrist (R-MD) and Ehlers (R-MI). The appeal mentions 39 sponsors to date. I recognize four environmental extremist politicians and an old-line conservation politician in an otherwise urban politician list. Washington is busy with an "Awareness Week" and a Conference on the matter of Invasive Species. Two days ago a 2PM Press Conference by a cross section of environmental groups at the Willard Hotel (where the term "lobbying" was coined) proclaimed that the Bush Administration was the greatest threat to public lands since the glaciers covered much of the United States. A recent Congressional hearing of the US House of Representatives Committee on Agriculture, Subcommittee on Department Operations Oversight, Nutrition and Forestry was a virtual lovefest where ten Invasive Species lobbyists vied with Congresspersons including the Chairman-Nature Conservancy member to describe billions of dollars of damage (to say this was fantastic exaggeration is understatement) and the difficulty their grandchildren have swimming near their waterfront properties due to "weed mats" (i.e. hydrilla.) Acquaintances who know they will be harmed by this approaching storm of legislation tell me it is inevitable. The word "on the street" is that major legislation is being put together for a large and all-inclusive bill or several (aquatic, weed, insect, etc.) smaller bills to do the same thing. Whatever works will be pushed through. Why? Why now?
The first question, why, is slowly being explained in these articles. The next two articles will elaborate on The Real Goals and The Unintended Consequences to further explain, why. The second question, why now, is very important to understand. Now is a time of political opportunity. Political opportunity is the vehicle to obtain legislation and legislation is the golden fleece for every interest group today be they private, bureaucratic, or academic.
If the Federal government authority is to be expanded, new legislation is required. If money is to be made available to Federal agencies, new legislation is needed. If more money is to be made available to Universities and landowners like the Nature Conservancy, new legislation is needed. If more Federal control of private property and the activities of landowners, businessmen, and other citizens is to be created, new legislation is needed.
The White House must be on board any successful new legislation. Right now the President is advised by a Secretary of the Interior who has just proudly announced $40 Million in grants for "imperiled species" and who has been too busy for two years to address the needed reform of the Endangered Species Act. She is quietly leaving in place the tools that allowed the last Administration to grow the Federal powers and diminish state authorities regarding plants and animals. Her counterpart in the Department of Agriculture is not as green in her policies but she also is reluctant to champion reforms of things like the Animal Welfare Act. Add to this the attacks on President Bush as a reckless oil man out to pillage "the environment." Add to this Iraq, terror, and a no-holds-barred opposition in the Senate and in the corps of Presidential hopefuls to everything the President does and you have "political opportunity." Like Bob Barr (the failed 2nd Amendment-supporting Georgia Congressman who voted for an also failed obscene environmental pork barrel bill of $40 Billion to curry the "soccer moms" vote); today's White House is vulnerable to the temptation of currying those same soccer moms and other urban "environmentalist" voters for the election less than two years hence. It is a fool's errand but between environmentally na´ve political advisors and green and neutral Secretaries in his Cabinet, the White house may do it.
Congress likewise is in a novel situation. The Resource Committees of both the House and Senate are keys to legislation passage. For the first time in recent memory they are chaired by environmentally sensible fellows. They hail from Oklahoma and California and have spoken repeatedly about what reforms are needed in the environmental arena and what they should look like. They make all of the pushers extremely nervous but in this milieu is also opportunity. As these Chairmen and their allies plan to make their tenures meaningful they will be faced with one or more Invasive Species proposals which will increase Federal powers at the direct expense of state powers; that will cost lots of money that will line bureaucrat, environmentalist, University and state pockets while doing little else; and which will be perceived by "the public" as a necessary thing that only loggers and animal experimenters could oppose. The result will be lots of precious time wasted, vilification of any opponents, and (the even bigger result) less time for reforms of Acts like the Endangered Species Act which has gone unauthorized for more than a decade while getting annual budget and personnel increases and growing Federal authorities enormously.
States also pose a political opportunity at this time. Several like Florida and California have wanted more and more Federal money for reasons stated in an earlier article. Some states like Maryland (home of one of the sponsors) and Michigan (home of two other sponsors including one from the Home District of the famous University fighting for racial preferences before the Supreme Court) never pass up the chance for any new Federal money (think Boston and the "big dig".) Many other states are now hurting financially due to the recession and the terror impacts. These latter have to cut the less important (sorry) programs like the environmental things and they are under pressure particularly from urban constituents to restore "the environment." If they oppose something like an Invasive Species gravy train it will be politically dangerous to say the least. Lost in all discussion here is the very clear fact that state bureaucrats and politicians know that this will mean increasingly dictatorial regulations from Washington, foolish and ineffective programs meant to patronize the powerful like the Nature Conservancy and the primary Federal agencies. State politicians are not looked down on for "getting money" and state bureaucrats are lauded for "getting the state's share from Federal programs." Also unmentioned is that the Federal money comes from Federal taxes that when used to keep down state taxes is merely the classic "taking from Peter to pay Paul." Ultimately, just as at the Federal level, the gauge for success is the dollars and employees as far as the public goes and the security and bonuses and available promotions as far as the bureaucrats go. The defense of and preservation of the Constitutional rights assigned to states is more and more left to the lawyers of those harmed by Federal intrusions who don't just pack up and go silently into the night.
Behind all this are the societal fights going on all around us. Urban voters wanting to stop trapping by rural residents. Easterners wanting to put predators all over the west. Vegetarians wanting to eliminate the availability of meat whether raised domestically or taken from the wild. Federalists opposed to anti-Federalists. Soccer moms opposed to logging and ranching while wanting more trails and facilities. "Wildlands" supporters wanting to clear large rural land swaths of rural residents while closing off access entirely. All of these have "their" politicians and they will all be playing their parts behind the scenes as all this unfolds.
On the national scene there will be news conferences by the environmental groups about why we can't cut taxes because things like Invasive Species won't be "addressed." Federal appointees and bureaucrats will work surreptitiously with Invasive Species advocates to undercut opponents and publicize things that help get the program through.
Everyone will deny that Federal jurisdiction over all non-native or exotic species will result in eventual jihads against a steadily growing list of non-native species. Actually it will merely take a court case "in the right court" to establish that fact the first few times and after that it will merely become automatic. Everyone (including the states) will deny that states can "handle" the job. Exaggeration will rule by claims from "experts" of billions lost here and billions lost there accompanied by laughter at any "non-expert" either questioning them or saying that they are false claims. Much of this will transpire in Congressional Hearing Rooms before hordes of reporters anxious to capitalize on environmental horror stories that are enjoyed on evening television after dinner. Opponents will gradually be as rare as hen's teeth. Politics, "ain't" it grand?
The next article will address The Real Goals of the Invasive Species proposals.
Jim Beers is a 33 year veteran of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, and a great advocate of private property rights.
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