When political leaders put politics over process and the law, it leaves plenty of wreckage behind. The Biden administration’s decision last week, to cancel the Twin Metals leases in the Superior National Forest, was just one of many examples of how the Trump administration’s disregard of federal law and governmental process didn’t serve anyone well.
Most all of us prefer a leader who “gets thing done,” but the way things get done actually matters. As we report this week, a new legal analysis issued by the Department of the Interior details the ways that officials in the Trump administration botched the renewal of the Twin Metals leases, ignoring federal regulations and federal law in the process. The Biden administration, facing a holdover lawsuit filed against the Trump administration, was faced with the decision of defending the former administration’s flawed process or canceling the leases.
Here’s the reality. If the administration hadn’t canceled the leases, the courts likely would have done so themselves. Even a conservative Supreme Court was unlikely to look the other way in the face of clear violations of federal statute.
There is, for example, no doubt that the U.S. Forest Service has the right, clearly laid out in federal law, to either approve or reject a mining operation on surface lands it controls within the Superior National Forest. That’s a right that both federal agencies, including within the Interior Department and the courts, have previously upheld. Previous renewals of the Twin Metals leases had only come with Forest Service consent.
But with rising concerns about a possible mine just upstream of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, the Forest Service, in 2016, exercised its veto power over the Twin Metals leases, citing long-term risks to the wilderness that Forest Service officials believed could not be mitigated. As the federal agency charged with ensuring protection of the country’s most-visited wilderness area, the Forest Service’s decision was justifiable and well-documented.
And most importantly, it’s a decision that the Forest Service— even under the Trump administration— never rescinded.
Instead, a former Koch brothers attorney, hired by Trump, used a fictional legal fig leaf to say it didn’t matter. That was supposed to give Trump’s appointees in the Interior Department legal cover to renew the leases in time for their boss to crow about all he was doing for folks up here during his frequent visits to the region.
With friends like Trump, who needs enemies? All he offered was false hope to those who supported the mine. Trump, of course, didn’t care whether the leases ever held up to court scrutiny. Like everything Trump does, it was all for self-aggrandizement. All for the show and his political advancement. He’s never cared about the wreckage he’s left behind. That’s for others to clean up. In this case, it was the Biden administration left to clean up yet another of Trump’s doo-doo piles. The Trump administration had an abysmal record in the nation’s courts, in large part because agency decision-making was focused on pleasing an ignorant and impatient boss rather than following the law.
Folks in our area who saw Trump as an ally, mistook his braggadocio for competency and his divisive rhetoric for strength. He promised to appoint “the best people,” which proved to be just another bit of self-promotion that was exactly the opposite of the truth. This was the gang that couldn’t shoot straight, and it will take years to clean up after them.
We know that there are many Americans who don’t care about any of this, who view federal process as little more than bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo designed to masquerade purely political calculation as rational decision-making. Government certainly isn’t perfect, as the Trump administration showed us in spades. We’ve reported on governmental process for decades now— long enough to know that in the right hands, it can lead to reasoned and defensible decision-making— even when we don’t agree with the final outcome.
It’s a slow and cumbersome process, but it’s better than the alternative. President Trump undoubtedly would have preferred to rule by edict, and many of his supporters would have preferred that as well. Unfortunately for them, our founding fathers had a different vision, that divided the powers of government precisely to keep men like Donald Trump from running roughshod over the body politic. That may not please Trump and many of his supporters, but it’s the reality of the system our founders created for America.
Love it or leave it.
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