It is tempting to get distracted by the cartoonishly biased framing of this Washington Post story on the Obama administration’s new executive action on environmental regulation in Alaska. But that media bias is only one of three important takeaways in the story—and in fact is the least important of the three.
The article is about the Obama administration’s decision to “propose setting aside more than 12 million acres in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness, the White House announced Sunday, halting any chance of oil exploration for now in the refuge’s much-fought-over coastal plain and sparking a fierce battle with Republicans, including the new chair of the Senate Energy Committee.” Though it’s clear that it’s the president initiating action and those who have to live with the consequences who are reacting, the Post slaps the following headline on the piece: “Obama administration to propose new wilderness protections in Arctic refuge — Alaska Republicans declare war.”
Set aside the Post’s obvious and misplaced dramatizing. We don’t even hear from the GOP until we’re nine paragraphs into the story. If anyone’s “declar[ing] war,” it’s not the side whose comments are treated as an afterthought.
But again, that’s less important than two other aspects of the story. One is the fact that Obama’s use of executive authority is designed by someone who has lost touch with reality. Obama’s latest decision is aimed at a Congress that doesn’t exist, except in Obama’s own mind:
The new areas of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) proposed for wilderness designation will comprise 1.52 million acres of the refuge’s coastal plain, 5.85 million acres of the Brooks mountain range and 4.92 million acres of the Porcupine Plateau.
The move marks the latest instance of Obama’s aggressive use of executive authority to advance his top policy priorities. While only Congress can create a wilderness area, once the federal government identifies a place for that designation, it receives the highest level of protection until Congress acts or a future administration adopts a different approach.
A few years ago CBS’s Steve Kroft asked Obama, who was responding to terrible economic news with goofy smiles and stale talking points, if he was “punch drunk.” At this point, punch drunk is a best-case scenario. Congress is obviously not going to close off American energy production in order to follow the Democrats’ unicorn environmentalism. But Obama takes the step of putting up barriers that can either be added to by Congress or deconstructed by a future, more rational president.
Which brings us to the third interesting aspect of the story: the reaction of a future president. The Post makes clear that this is a setup for Hillary Clinton, who obviously has no intention of undoing the damage. In fact, she might as well be cosigning this act of economic and environmental extremism:
It also reflects the influence of White House senior counselor John Podesta, who is stepping down next month to help launch Hillary Rodham Clinton’s expected presidential bid. Podesta, who helped oversee several of President Bill Clinton’s major public lands initiatives while serving as his chief of staff, has elevated conservation issues to the top of the White House agenda since joining Obama’s staff a year ago.
In a blog post, Podesta and the White House Council on Environmental Quality’s Mike Boots wrote that while the administration backs oil and gas production, the refuge is not an appropriate place. “Unfortunately, accidents and spills can still happen, and the environmental impacts can sometimes be felt for many years,” they wrote.
Obama is so focused on his legacy that he’s using an imaginary Congress to build bridges to an imaginary president. All this should be kept in mind for when Hillary makes her campaign official. She will run claiming to support the middle class and declare her intention to unlock America’s potential, no doubt triangulating on domestic energy production.
What we now know is that this will be false, and she will have tipped her hand ahead of time. She’s already running a campaign on putting American energy exploration on lockdown and building on Obama’s executive overreach. And that’s why Alaska Republicans are pushing back by the time the Post gets around to acknowledging their existence. If there is anything that is real about this delusional array of policies, it is the economic impact on those who have to live with it:
“What’s coming is a stunning attack on our sovereignty and our ability to develop a strong economy that allows us, our children and our grandchildren to thrive,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the new chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said in a statement. “It’s clear this administration does not care about us, and sees us as nothing but a territory. . . . I cannot understand why this administration is willing to negotiate with Iran, but not Alaska. But we will not be run over like this. We will fight back with every resource at our disposal.” Murkowski spoke to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell about the department’s plan during a brief phone call Friday.
By “every resource at our disposal,” the Post seems to think Murkowski was talking about the Alaska National Guard. Murkowski probably meant legal resources. I don’t know what the Post’s excuse is, though it’s understandable why a reference to the rule of law went right over Podesta’s head. He responded with a condescending remark suggesting Murkowski’s reaction was unbalanced.
But nothing Murkowski said was untrue. And it gives Hillary an early look at the opposition she’ll face when, as a candidate, she’s reminded of her campaign manager’s mischief.