Trump administration's costly one-two punch for taxpayers

Trump administration's costly one-two punch for taxpayers
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To paraphrase Barry Goldwater, a million here, several tens of thousands of dollars there and pretty soon you're talking about real money.

Much has been written in recent weeks about cabinet secretaries’ profligate use of charter aircraft at the taxpayers’ expense. While Health and Human Services Secretary Tom PriceThomas (Tom) Edmunds PriceConspicuous by their absence from the Republican Convention Coronavirus Report: The Hill's Steve Clemons interviews Chris Christie Trump flails as audience dwindles and ratings plummet MORE racked up almost a million dollars in flights this year — a revelation that led to his abrupt resignation — other Trump administration officials including Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeTrump extends Florida offshore drilling pause, expands it to Georgia, South Carolina Conspicuous by their absence from the Republican Convention Trump flails as audience dwindles and ratings plummet MORE and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittJuan Williams: Swamp creature at the White House Science protections must be enforceable Conspicuous by their absence from the Republican Convention MORE have also been racking up the miles.

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Zinke’s more than $12,000 charge for a charter flight home to Montana and Pruitt’s $58,000 in private and military flights should rightly raise the hackles of taxpayers.

 

As galling as wasting taxpayer dollars on extravagant travel is, it pales in comparison to the cost of the policy rollbacks Zinke and Pruitt are pursuing at the behest of special interests.

Last year both EPA and Interior’s Bureau of Land Management finalized rules designed to limit the waste of taxpayer-owned natural gas, increase royalty revenue and reduce air pollution. These common-sense standards were designed to help cut the approximately $2 billion worth of natural gas (primarily made up of methane) currently wasted by the oil and gas industry every year.

Capturing this wasted gas would also capture significant additional tax and royalty revenue for American taxpayers. On federal lands alone, without these rules American taxpayers stand to lose out on $800 million in tax and royalty payments over the next decade due to largely avoidable venting and flaring of natural gas, according to a report from the Western Values Project.

Apparently blind to the notion of fiscal prudence, Pruitt and Zinke have both made rolling back these rules a top priority. Pruitt has been trying to unilaterally block the EPA’s methane rule since he became the agency’s administrator, and Zinke just issued a proposal to stay BLM’s methane rule for a year, allowing an additional $330 million worth of taxpayer-owned natural gas to be wasted.

Fighting these waste reduction rules signals a blatant disregard for our wallets, more so than their predilection for luxury travel on the taxpayers’ dime. Both are a slap in the face to fiscal responsibility and conservatism.

Making this all the more worse is the fact that rolling back these provisions does nothing for the economy, nor do they really help the special interests being catered to. Leading states, especially in the western U.S., have shown that reducing methane waste is easily achievable while enjoying strong economic growth.

Colorado led the way putting in place the nation’s first methane rule in 2014. Since then, regulators have reported a 75 percent reduction in reported leaks. Meanwhile labor data shows that the state remains one of the country’s hottest jobs markets in hiring and wage growth. In fact, a recent industry survey found that the majority of Colorado oil and gas producers interviewed found compliance with the state’s methane rule to be cost effective since every bit of methane captured is more that can be sold.

It is not surprising then that these rules are both widely popular, garnering hundreds of thousands of positive public comments. To give one example during a recent public comment period on a proposed suspension of EPA’s rule, only two stakeholders out of 118 supported a delay. The other 98 percent representing businesses, tribes, ranchers, public health groups and others spoke in opposition to the delay, sharing their desire to see these wasteful and polluting practices curtailed.

What is surprising then is that a supposedly conservative administration is such a big fan of waste. Why are Zinke and Pruitt so hell-bent on fighting these common sense waste reduction standards?

Previous efforts to repeal and delay these rules lost in Congress when a bipartisan majority of Senators led by John McCainJohn Sidney McCainAnalysis: Biden victory, Democratic sweep would bring biggest boost to economy The Memo: Trump's strengths complicate election picture Mark Kelly: Arizona Senate race winner should be sworn in 'promptly' MORE (R-Ariz.), Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe Hill's Campaign Report: Trump faces backlash after not committing to peaceful transition of power Billionaire who donated to Trump in 2016 donates to Biden Credit union group to spend million on Senate, House races MORE (R- Maine) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSteele Dossier sub-source was subject of FBI counterintelligence probe Hillicon Valley: Subpoenas for Facebook, Google and Twitter on the cards | Wray rebuffs mail-in voting conspiracies | Reps. raise mass surveillance concerns Key Democrat opposes GOP Section 230 subpoena for Facebook, Twitter, Google MORE (R-S.C.) voted to maintain the BLM methane waste rule in May.

They have lost in the legal arena with federal district court judges allowing the BLM rule to go into effect and overturning both Pruitt and Zinke’s attempts to unilaterally stay their department’s rules. And most importantly, attempts to roll back these rules consistently lose in the court of public opinion where bipartisan public polling has repeatedly shown broad support for action to curtail methane pollution and waste.

There is nothing conservative about allowing more waste of taxpayer owned resources. While the Trump administration announces greater scrutiny of cabinet secretary travel expenses, they would be smart to also halt efforts to roll back methane waste rules designed to protect taxpayers and their resources.

David Jenkins is the president of Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship, a national nonprofit organization.