Politics

Nebraska Gov. Ricketts has worked closely with Koch-tied group to kill Biden conservation initiative

In a detailed new exposé, HuffPost has unmasked an unholy and largely secret alliance between Ricketts and a Koch-funded group called American Stewards of Liberty, which has been working behind the scenes to scuttle President Joe Biden’s pro-conservation 30×30 initiative ever since it was announced in early 2021.

After the Biden administration unveiled 30×30, with the goal of conserving 30% of U.S. lands and waters by 2030, American Stewards Executive Director Margaret Byfield reached out for willing accomplices to help murder the initiative and, according to HuffPost, the organization, which “has become a magnet for anti-federal land zealots,” would soon find a “star” in Ricketts.

Internal communications HuffPost obtained via a public record request to Ricketts’ office show Byfield acting as a shadow adviser of the governor, not only on 30×30 but other environmental policy issues. She even played a direct role in crafting an executive order the governor signed in late June aimed at preventing President Joe Biden from implementing his 30×30 plan in Nebraska.

One of the governor’s top aides, Taylor Gage, was in regular contact with Byfield between February and November of last year. The two kept one another abreast of their anti-30×30 efforts and shared materials ahead of a series of town halls the governor held around the state to “raise awareness about the threat 30×30 poses to our way of life here in Nebraska.” They also strategized about dealing with reporters and which media outlets could best help them get their message out.

Of course, this is just another example of the right’s savant-like mastery of simple, deceptive messaging. According to American Stewards, Biden’s initiative was a “land grab” that “hands the powers of the Federal regulatory agencies to a movement that has been working to abolish private property for decades.”

That’s nonsense, of course—and you know it’s nonsense because 1) it makes no sense and 2) it almost immediately became an article of faith among dopey Republicans like Ricketts. Indeed, shortly after meeting with Byfield at the state Capitol on March 10, 2021, Ricketts began parroting the group’s dubious claims about the Biden administration’s conservation efforts.

“When the agriculture secretary [Tom Vilsack] says it’s not a land grab, then you know it is a land grab,” Ricketts told attendees at an anti-30×30 town hall meeting in June 2021. Behind him was a screen projection that included the words “30×30 LAND GRAB.” Oddly enough, the image was lifted directly from American Stewards’ website. Of course, if anyone who merely acknowledges the existence of gay people can be a “groomer,” there’s seemingly no limit to the kinds of rhetorical dross these dingbats are prepared to burnish into sparkly berms of bullshit.

In its story, HuffPost shows how the information pipeline from the ironically named American Stewards to Ricketts’ office was wide open, with Gage, who’s now the executive director of the Nebraska Republican Party, acting as a liaison between the anti-environment group and the governor. Within weeks of Biden floating 30×30 as a national goal, writes HuffPost, American Stewards began coordinating with Gage. Those efforts culminated in a June 2021 executive order that Ricketts signed. The order could only be described as industry-friendly—and it’s a document that, according to HuffPost, “has Byfield’s fingerprints all over it.”

Meanwhile, Ricketts’ administration was playing dumb. When contacted by The Daily Beast just prior to the executive order signing, the governor’s office “pretended it had little if any knowledge of the right-wing group.”

Which brings us to Earth Day 2022. American Stewards is sponsoring a STOP 30×30 Summit in nowhere else but Lincoln, Nebraska, to mark the holiday. Byfield has described it as “the most important conference” her group has ever organized, while HuffPost calls it a “who’s who of land transfer proponents, climate change deniers, conservation foes and sympathizers of anti-government extremists.” In other words, the Republican Party in a nutshell.

Predictably, Ricketts is hosting the event and will welcome such luminaries as Byfield, Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert, and other “leading figures” of the anti-30×30 movement. It promises to be the best event that dark Koch money can buy

American Stewards is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. The majority of its revenue comes from donations, major gifts, and income from trainings, speaking fees and consulting contracts with local governments. Between 2015 and 2019, Kane County, Utah, paid the organization $483,000 for land-use consulting and legal services, The Salt Lake Tribune reported. Over that same five-year period, Donors Capital Fund and Donors Trust, two groups that received millions from the fossil fuel moguls Charles and David Koch and have funneled huge amounts of dark money to climate change denial and other conservative causes, gave American Stewards at least $170,000, according to the Center for Media and Democracy.

Hope you enjoy your land while you still can, folks. For some reason I doubt Charles Koch is thinking about your right to grow organic soybeans as he shovels this money into these planet-destroying initiatives. Then again, he’ll likely be dead before his most sinister schemes come to fruition. Sadly, you likely won’t. 

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