Norton, Schafer discuss conservative effort on environmentalism

How would a bottom-up approach to environment policy help engage conservatives and promote the conservative environmental agenda? During today's OnPoint, Ed Schafer, former secretary of Agriculture and former governor of North Dakota, and Gale Norton, former Interior secretary, discuss their work with the Conservation Leadership Council and explain why they believe limited government is the best approach to managing the United States' environmental challenges.


Monica Trauzzi: Hello, and welcome to On Point. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today are Gale Norton, former U.S. secretary of the Interior, and Ed Schafer, former U.S. secretary of Agriculture, and former governor of North Dakota. Governor Schafer and Secretary Norton are members of the Conservation Leadership Council. Thank you both for joining me.

Ed Schafer: Thank you, Monica.

Gale Norton: Thank you.

Monica Trauzzi: Secretary Norton, the Conservation Leadership Council is seeking to take a fresh approach to handling some of the nation's environmental challenges, and you both came from prominent government positions, where very often you were leading from the top down and taking approaches from the top down. What about your work, your government work, has led you to believe that that's not perhaps the best approach, and that we need to be focusing more on the local level?

Gale Norton: We have a country with so much diversity, so many different people, and so many different locations, with different needs and different interests. As I traveled around the country when I was Secretary, I found that there were local solutions, people who working on conservation efforts by getting together with their neighbors and addressing their concerns, getting environmentalists and businesspeople and ranchers to sit down and talk. And those were the places where we found so many successful solutions, and I believe strongly that that kind of bottoms up approach can yield better results than somebody sitting behind a desk in Washington saying, "This is what the whole country needs to do." One size fits all doesn't really fit anybody.

Monica Trauzzi: But Secretary Schafer, can't the government help provide a structure that then the localities can sort of plug and play into?

Ed Schafer: I think the examples that we've seen that work best is where the federal government or state government sets a guideline or a target or some standards, and then allows the public policy process, whether it's through the legislature or some council, to generate a policy that works best, given the local conditions. So you can have the target, but you can also allow the project to be generated, the program to be generated, with local conditions, that really make it more effective and make it work better.

Monica Trauzzi: So talk about the timing of the creation of this organization, and is it specific to things that were happening within the Obama administration, or is this just a more general push for limited government?

Ed Schafer: Well, when we got together, it was an issue of saying, how can we make conservation efforts more sustainable, more affordable, more workable, and as Secretary Norton had mentioned, you know, there's a lot of effort for the one size fits all. Having both been involved in state government, you know, we started looking and saying, "How can you generate programs and policies that work based on local conditions?" So we came together not because of a timing issue, not because of an election, but because conservation issues are important for us, and we're trying to figure out how to make them work better, develop public policy that really reflects what people are looking for in their own communities.

Gale Norton: And in many ways the timing isn't so much about what administration is in office. It's about the fact that we have so much partisanship and so much gridlock in Washington right now, and we wanted to look for some solutions that would break through that, because we think that there are approaches that can have support from Republicans, from Democrats, from conservatives, from libertarians, from people of all different political spectrums, if you find solutions that are not necessarily big government solutions, don't have those kinds of heavy-handed approaches that tend to turn off conservatives. What we wanted to do is offer some solutions that can appeal across the board.

Monica Trauzzi: How does the economy factor into all of this?

Gale Norton: When you have so many states, local governments looking for ways to keep services alive while living within their budgets, and the federal government looking for ways to cut back on its spending, that's a time when you really need to look at some of the tough issues and figure out some ways that are not going to have the same demands on the taxpayers.

Monica Trauzzi: Secretary Schafer, do you think that there is confusion within the conservative movement on how to handle some of the environmental challenges that the United States faces? And are you trying to sort of seek some clarity on that?

Ed Schafer: Yes. I think among conservatives, a lot of us feel that we've been branded as not caring about the environment, it doesn't matter, just say no to everything, and recognize its impact on citizens. But many of us have very strong feelings about conservation and about our environment and how we can make policies better. So it is an effort to say, here is a private sector, market-based, voluntary effort to put public policy on the table that conservatives, liberals, everybody can accept, and make that brazen, make the broader application, so that you can generate the public will to actually get some projects done.

Monica Trauzzi: So what are the top-tier issues, Secretary Norton, that you think are best handled through this approach?

Gale Norton: We've released a report today that has a number of papers in it outlining some specific proposals, some specific policies. It's not so much that we have a policy agenda as we have ideas that we want to offer, and so the papers that have been made public today are ones that outline some proposals that can apply. One of the things that we think is quite interesting is a proposal for retrofitting buildings to conserve energy. It doesn't happen as much as it should right now, because the owners of the building don't necessarily pay the utility bill, and so they don't really have an incentive to do that investment. And so one of our authors has proposed a way that philanthropic organizations can help with that investment and reap a reward for themselves. I mean, it's one of those win/win/win things that can apply and appeal to anybody across the board.

Monica Trauzzi: How actively are you engaging Congress and the administration on this, and do you think that this is something that the Obama administration might be party to?

Ed Schafer: We're not actively engaging anyone at this point in time. We're information gathering. We're trying to develop policy. We're holding roundtables around the country to get input from rural, urban, livestock, crops, forestry, people that are dealing with parks and recreation, landowner, and natural resource issues. We hope to develop direction and information that can lead to public policy, but at this point in time, it is not our effort to engage an administration or Congress to say, "Do this or don't do that." It's an effort to be an information source today to help generate public policy.

Monica Trauzzi: All right. Thank you both for coming on the show. Interesting stuff.

Ed Schafer: Thank you.

Gale Norton: Thank you.

Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

[End of Audio]



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