Florida Republican governor and presumed presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis called climate policy “a pretext” to “advance more control over our society” at a Heritage Foundation event Friday just outside Washington.
“A lot of this stuff is being imposed through executive fiat,” DeSantis said during a conversation with Heritage President Kevin Roberts. “Look at what they are trying to do now with remaking how cars are done and all this. Nobody ever voted for that.”
DeSantis keynoted the conservative think tank’s 50th anniversary celebration — after a week of unforgiving headlines and sinking polling numbers. A Wall Street Journal survey released Friday found his original 14-point lead over former President Donald Trump has sunk to a 13-point disadvantage.
But on Friday at the Gaylord National Resort in Maryland, where a crowd of more than 1,000 people welcomed him with a standing ovation, DeSantis projected intense confidence.
“To this day, I’ve never consulted a poll about any decision I’ve made as governor,” he said. “Leaders get ahead of public opinion, chart the course and then the people follow.”
Little of his prepared remarks focused on energy or climate, save for an assertion that Florida would enact the nation’s strongest anti-ESG rules, referring to environmental, social and governance investment factors.
His recent book offered a slightly more nuanced take on environmental policy. While he rejected global warming, he wrote about asking the federal government to fund adaptation measures as the sea level rises and hurricanes batter the country’s southern tip (E&E News PM, March 2).
On Friday he focused on social issues. He blasted “identity politics”; diversity and inclusion requirements; transgender athletes; and, predictably, Disney.
Although he has not declared his bid for president, he portrayed Florida as the land of limited regulation and low taxes — which should be a model for the rest of the country. He also suggested he was running a superior operation.
“We’ve been able to operate in an administration that does not get consumed in controversy or drama or palace intrigue,” he said. “We basically execute the mission day after day.”
He continued to call some Republicans “potted plants.”
“They don’t want to do anything with the authority that they have,” he said.
Heritage hopes DeSantis, should he succeed, will follow its advice.
It’s outlined in the group’s new 900-page “Mandates for Leadership: The Conservative Promise,” a blueprint about how to take over and staff up federal agencies.
Heritage embarked on the comprehensive project after being plagued by staff turnover, leadership turmoil and internal ideological disputes. Observers have seen the project as a way for the foundation to regain influence, particularly after smaller conservative think tanks popped up after the Trump administration (Greenwire, Feb. 22).
Leading one of those new think tanks — the Center for Renewing America — is Russ Vought, former Office of Management and Budget director under Trump.
Vought spoke about his experience with unruly government managers and bold bureaucrats. He wanted to reclassify thousands of career staff by creating a new “Schedule F” category, an idea that generated considerable pushback.
During an interview, Vought said he expected Schedule F to be a “day one thing” if a Republican wins the White House.
At the end of the Trump administration, he crafted a plan to reclassify 90 percent of OMB staff, meaning they would lose some civil service protections. He said his efforts changed the culture around the office.
Vought rejected the idea that the point was to “fire the entirety of agencies.”
“We need the agencies with continuity of expertise, but we want that expertise to be served on behalf of the objectives of a president that gets elected by the American people,” he said.
Focus on energy
The Heritage playbook has 30 chapters on government operations and policy areas, including energy and environment. Some were authored by former Trump officials. For one, William Perry Pendley, who led the Bureau of Land Management on an acting basis, wrote the chapter on the Interior Department.
Bernard McNamee, a former commissioner at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, wrote the section on the Department of Energy and FERC. And by Mandy Gunasekara, the former Trump EPA chief of staff and Heritage fellow, wrote the EPA chapter.
“The challenge of creating a conservative EPA,” she wrote, “will be to balance justified skepticism toward an agency that has long been amenable to being coopted by the Left for political ends against the need to implement the agency’s true function: protecting public health and the environment in cooperation with the states.”
Gunasekara suggests reversing or easing many environmental regulations, like on air quality and superpollutants known as hydrofluorocarbons, and removing the Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program for operations not currently being regulated.
She also urges the next administration to freeze all environmental justice actions — a Biden administration priority — to ensure they are consistent with the forthcoming Supreme Court decision in the affirmative action case Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina.
Pendley wrote about how Interior has been captured by environmental radicals since the Carter administration. He urged the next president to reinstate the “Trump-era Energy Dominance Agenda.”
McNamee too promotes “American energy dominance” and calls for a future administration to eliminate “climate-change interference” in DOE approvals of liquefied natural gas exports.