The Trump administration is trying to rewrite the Great American Outdoors Act

Credit: Michael Quinn/NPS

Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt has issued an order giving state and local governments the power to block the federal government from expanding conservation and recreation opportunities for the American people. It is an attempt to rewrite by fiat the most important conservation law in a generation.

The Great American Outdoors Act permanently funds the Land and Water Conservation program, which, among many things, purchases land that would enhance the public’s enjoyment of wild spaces. The act’s purposes and processes are so broadly popular that it passed the Senate this summer with a filibuster-proof majority.

As with any wildly popular initiative, there are a handful of dissenters. For instance, fringe political groups have argued in recent years that the federal government manages too much Western land (some going so far as to hold an armed occupation of the Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016). During congressional debate for the Great American Outdoors Act, such extremists gained the ear of Utah Senator Mike Lee, who introduced an amendment that would require state governments to approve federal land acquisitions.

That amendment failed—a crucial point. Congress considered and rejected the idea that the states should have veto power over land decisions under the Great American Outdoors Act. The Trump administration is now attempting to overrule that congressional decision. Interior Secretary Bernhardt has issued an order mandating that both state governors and local governments consent to the land acquisition before the federal government can act.

This is an audacious flipping of the constitutional order that we all learned about in school—Congress makes the law, the president enforces the law, the courts interpret the law. The president doesn’t have the power to rewrite laws that he doesn’t like.


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